Tag Archives: Nina Simone

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To each — her own way. 

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

“At work,” she’ll say.

And she will mean:  RESPECT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Question?”

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

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

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

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

To each — her own grace.

My Kindness, Truth and Patience.

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

All — in the name of Love. 

“All My Ladies: If You Feel Me, Do It! Do It! WHIP YO’ HAIR!”

I follow a tradition:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

I have a lot it:  My hair.  My mane of plenty.

And in it, a man always finds his very first addiction, along my body.

So, naturally:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

It grows in unpredictable patterns.  Every day, it does its own thing:  between the gypsy wave and the tight curl of a brown girl, a sleek streaming down, along the upper vertebrae of my neck; a flip to one side, a curtain above my eye brow.  After years of managing it, I’ve finally learned not to — and I just let it be.    

I usually can sense it when it’s time to get a haircut — or a hair-shave:  I get itchy with impatience, and I stop wearing it down.  Instead, I yank it back and up into a brutal balletic bun, lacquering down all the flirty fly-aways with some nuclear spray.

And any time I let it down:

“Do you think I should cut it?” I ask anyone who happens to be nearby and listening.

Because by that time, the lover is long gone, having left little behind, or nothing at all — but so much to get over.  So, I can no longer turn to him — and ask the same question.

Yesterday, I skipped the questionnaire.  I drove the car, plopped down into the chair of the only brown girl I trust with my hair; and I said, with that fake accent I take on for comedy’s sake:

“Khelp me!”

She tilted back a headful of her heavy dreads and she roared:

“Jesus!  The Russian is a mess!”

“You can say that again.”

“The Russian is a mess!”

I tilted back a headful of my messy mane — and I too roared, spinning in her chair:  It was good to be back for some serious shedding.  I was about to get a man outta my hair, with the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body.

Her confident brown hand reached over and unleashed my bun, scratching the scalp with her firm nails.  She’s Caribbean, wears tats and feathers; and she is always listening to heavy music.  (Unless she is having a bad day:  Then, we do Nina.)

For three years now, she’s been freelancing out of this joint with floor-to-ceiling windows, flung open throughout the entire year, with its heavy music echoing along Venice Boulevard.  And for three years now, she’s been cutting my mane of plenty.

We both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled, about to roar again, and her teeth reminded me of coconut meat.  Mine — were yellowed with coffee.

“I look like a shaggy dog!” I said.  “Khelp me!”

That was the last of it:  The last time we would mention my hair:  My mane of plenty.  For the rest of that hour, we talked about the adventures that had happened since the last time I sat in her chair, saying:

“Khelp me!”

She started doing yoga since — and I began flying.  She was thinking about running.  I had been.

She roared a lot, and I would spin in her chair, pleased that I was the cause of her lightness.

There had been times before, somewhere in the beginning of our camaraderie, when I would go to sleep in her chair, and in her hands; and she would let me.  But after all these years of shedding, she’s become my only permanent confidant in this city.

In an hour — filled with more laughter and questions, with tales of our future adventures — we both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled her coconut smile at me and buried the brown, confident right hand inside my now shorter mane, of still plenty.

“No hair-dryer, right?”

“Nyet!  I hate that thing.”

Some magical potion smelling of ginger was rubbed into my scalp.  I was feeling lighter already.

“Jesus!  You’re magical,” I said.

She roared.

And when the covers were lifted, I swung my chair around to see pound and mounts of my former mane of plenty, at my feet.  My girl began to sweep.

“It’s enough for a whole other person,” she joked, and shook her headful of heavy dreads, while flashing the coconut smile at me.

It was.  It was a whole other person — a departed lover, to be exact.  And there he was:  I man I had committed to get outta my hair, now at my feet.  And having shed the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body, I had also shed him.

I stepped over the pile.

Back in my car, Nina roared en route home.  The air smelled like ginger.

 

“Birds Flyin’ High: You Know How I Feel! Sun In The Sky: You Know How I Feel!”

(Continued from August 25, 2011.)

“Um.  Vie-rra?”

I look up:  The badass to take me flying is heading toward us, with an already extended arm for a handshake.  He is so much larger than me.

I make my move, grinning:

“I’m Vera!” I say.

I feel calm and yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky.

“Sean,” he says.  What a decent name, on a decent man!

Then, he adds:  “And for the next hour, I’m going to be — your bodyguard.”

“I like that!” I say, still grinning.  Apparently, for the next hour, I am going to speak only with exclamations.

Sean gives me his forearm.  I grab it, and for the first time in the history of my womanhood — I actually mean it.  I let him lead the way.

On the sidelines, I can see the other instructors readjusting the gear on their students.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  He’s not even wearing his own gear yet.  Instead, he starts talking to me, calmly, about today’s “exceptional” skies.

“You can see everything much clearer, from up there,” he says.

I assume it’s metaphor for something:  A life of wisdom, of persevering past the suffering and finally landing into humility, which often takes the very place — of grace.

It must also be a metaphor for luck.  And then I think it’s a good sign that in his name, there is an equal number of letters as in mine — and we share the same vowels.

We talk.  Where did I come from?  How did he land here?

“I used to be afraid of heights,” he tells me.  “Until my family gave me a skydiving lesson, as a Christmas present.”

And this, I assume, must be a metaphor for something, as well:  For human courage and the choice to defeat one’s limitations.

“THE SKY IS THE LIMIT,” says the sign behind Sean’s back in the alcove where we’ve walked off to pick up his equipment.

And this!  This too — must be a metaphor.  A good sign.

And I already know that I shall continue rewinding this day in my memory every time I want to land into my own humility.

The aircraft pulls up.  It’s a tiny thing.  It sounds rickety — and I LOVE that.  Because it makes survival seem easy, nonchalant — not a thing to fuss over, or to fear.

Calmly, Sean goes over what’s about to happen.  As he gives me instructions about my head and limb positioning when up on the air, he throws in a few metaphors:

“When we come to the edge, you kneel down on one knee, as if proposing to me.  Rest your head on my shoulder.  Wait for me to tap you like this; then bring your arms out at a ninety-degree angle — and enjoy the view!”

I imitate his movements.  The thrill, the impatience, the anticipation makes me a terrible student though; because besides grinning, I don’t notice myself doing much else.  But my bodyguard must know that already, because he continues with his metaphors.

“If you feel like you can’t breathe — scream!”

And this too!  This too — must be a metaphor for something.

There are three other students besides me.  Two of them start leading the way to the non-fussy aircraft, accompanied by their instructors who are still adjusting their gear, yanking on the belts, clicking the hinges.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  Somehow, he’s managed to get geared up already and to check up on own my belts and hinges.  And he has done his job with grace, without arousing any adrenaline in me.

I feel calm, yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky — which must be the limit — and past my own limitations.

We are not even inside the plane yet, but already, I can hear the echos of Sean’s metaphors:

“When we come to the edge… kneel down as if proposing.”

“Rest your head…  Wait.”

“If you can’t breath — scream!”

Inside the aircraft, the two students making the jump at 10,500 feet straddle the bench ahead of us.  Their instructors start adjusting their belts again.  The four of us sit behind them.

My bodyguard and I continue talking.  Come to find out:  He is a gypsy, just like me, traveling mostly in pursuit of conquering his fears.  For eight years, he’s been leaping out into sky.

“You must be fearless!”  I say.

“No,” Sean answers, calmly.  “But this job — is a good metaphor for dealing with life.”

Underneath us, I can see the pretty geometric shapes of farmlands and fields that I have seen before out of the windows of other planes.  Since a child, I had always wanted to leap out into the clouds, somehow knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to fear about that.

I turn to Sean:  “How high are we?!”

I notice:  I myself have started speaking in metaphors.  Or, maybe, I have always done that.  Which must be why I still find myself leaping out into the skies of my limitations — on my own.  It must be hard to keep up.

“Six and a half,” my bodyguard answers and he shows me a watch-like device on this wrist with that number.

I grab it, meaning it, wanting to devour every bit of knowledge and skill that comes with leading a fearless life.  Sean tells me that’s the exact height at which he’ll open our parachute.

I do the math.  (My mind is clear, still unaffected by adrenaline.)

It means:  We shall free fall for 7,000 feet.

Wow.

My gratitude — floods in.

Calmly, I watch the other two couples leap out at their heights.  There is something very incredible in the way they make their final choice to go, letting the skies sweep them off the edge.

AND I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS.  IT’S HUMBLING.

We keep going up to our height.

“In what order do you wanna go?” Sean asks me, over my shoulder:  Somehow, he’s managed to have done his job again, and I am now sitting strapped onto his body, at my hips and shoulders.

“Let’s go first!” I answer, still grinning.

And still:  I am calm.  And still:  I am impatient to jump out into the sky.

Soon enough, we start sliding onto the edge.  When I put my goggles on, I hear the echo of Sean’s metaphor:  He must’ve told me that it would be the last gesture we do — before leaping out.  He’s amazing.

The four of us shake, slap, squeeze each other hands.  I can feel the heat rising up behind my goggles:

THIS!  THIS HUMILITY AND GRACE — THIS VERY HUMANITY — IS WHAT LIFE MUST BE ABOUT!  

Sean slides the door up.

“Come to the edge.”

“Kneel.”

“Rest.”

“Breathe.”

I hear the echos.  The heart — is on my tongue.  I think:  I’m screaming.

Maybe not.

We get swept off.

IT. 

IS. 

AMAZING.

When daydreaming about leaping out into the sky before, I used to think I would cry.  I was wrong:

It’s all joy!  All rapture!  All gratitude! 

Like a giant orgasm, for 7,000 feet!

And it tastes — just like the Ocean!

I am air-bound now, above California.

Above my life.

“And Just Like The River, I Been A Runnin’ — Ever Since!”

[Continued from July 31, 2011]

But who knows just how long we’ve all been running.  I haven’t been watching the mile markers:  They’ll only make me psych myself out.

It’s all in mind, you see.  The game — is all in the mind.  The race, the run, the marathon.  So, I rein mine in:  I don’t judge other humans — and I don’t compete.

This sport — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go farther, and longer.

This City — THE City — has taught me that.

Speaking of THE City:  We have now been unleashed into Her.  After warming up and hydrating us quite plenty in the park, the masterful, gracious hosts of my first half-marathon have opened the gates — and straight onto Haight we go.  I have been watching my breath until now, while running through the park:  It’s a resilience thing.  But here is where it skips, I must say.  I’m breathless:  This City — is a vision!

The locals have spilled out onto the streets once designed by someone with unreasonable imagination:  Families, youngsters, couples — of all shades, shapes, ages and sexes; teenagers in want of inspiration or curiosity; children with dreamy eyes, and dogs — with confused ones.  Funky descendants of hippies that have long ago migrated here:  They’re beautiful boys with long hair and girls with compassionate faces.

“…V to the izz-A!” Sean Carter starts hollering into my ear, from my running playlist.  “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 8th Wonder of the World!”  Yep.  This City — THE City — deserves no less!

Lovers in various relationships have been watching us from each other’s embraces or from the opposite windows of their half of a hexagon rotundas.  A lonesome woman timidly smiles at me, from her second floor balcony; and in the midst of her sadness, I think:

“When was the last time she was found beautiful?”

“Beautiful!” I holler up to her, simultaneously with “H to the izz-O!”.

At every intersection, every traffic light, the San Francisco policemen and women remind me of volunteering Hells Angels; and they do one of two stances:  Either they root themselves through their black-leather-bound legs (they’ve got this!). Or they pace while swooshing their gloved hands through the air in the direction of the finish line.

But who knows just how long we’ve been running, and how much longer we’ve got left!  Who knows — and who the hell cares?!

A glorious family of six has taken over an island in the middle of a street — all blonde, tall, and boho-chic — and they have been extending their hands into the avalanche of runners crashing down the hill.  I haven’t greeted that gesture yet, from anyone:  It’s a resilience thing.  But the youngest of the family, standing at the very end of the island, like the broody teenager he is supposed to be, shakes his tousled surfer curls out of his face and studies me with his blue-gray eyes.

“Looks like Joseph — my future son,” flashes across my mind.

Joseph extends his hand, right in front of my womb — and I tap it.  His hand feels dry and callused, belonging to the young man that he is supposed to become.

A symphonic tune begins winding up and Bono comes in, screeching:  “At the moment of surrender, I folded to my knees.”  I tear up.

Soon, my baby-boy.  I shall see you very soon, back in this City:  THE City.

An older couple is jogging slowly.  I wait for a reasonable gap in between them and I pass:

“I’m right behind you,” I hear her say to her man.

“I’m not going anywhere!” he responds.

Who knows just how long we’ve all been running.  I haven’t been watching the mile markers:  It’s a resilience thing.

At every water station, I soak up the faces of the volunteers.  I lap ‘em up, actually, drink them all in; and regardless that “resilience thing” of mine, I make sure to thank them.  The very specific, very studious boy with dreadlocks who is sweeping the plastic cups from under our feet, the crunch of which has become my own mile marker:  He extends his free arm to salute us with a victory sign and doesn’t crack a smile.  This is no laughing matter here!  This is THE City:  United!

The Asian boy that has handed me water:  While I find my mouth busy with the sensation of it, I thank him with a kind tap over his heart.  He grins.  He’s wearing braces.

A brown girl gives me both of her cups, then pumps the air with her fist:  Power!

Here comes in Nina Simone, right on time and perfectly poignant, as always:  “Yeah!  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,”  My steps are liking her rhythm.  Take it away, you goddess!  And, oh, how she does! Alright ye!”  

I pick up the pace.

An aging small man is jogging calmly with an aging small dog trailing right behind.  They aren’t in any rush.  They’re just doing their thing.

A woman with some handicap affecting the evenness of her stride:  You do your thing, love!  You do your thing!  And don’t EVER let anyone treat you inconsequentially!

The two young men in nerdy knit hats are in the midst of a chill conversation:  Awesome!  I pass ‘em.

The two poster boys for what health looks like up in the Bay are strutting their surfer bodies along the Embarcadero:  Breathless!  I pass them too.

“It’s just the way the game is played!  It’s best — if you just wait your turn,” RiRi is right on top of me.  I think of my brother.  He calls me RaRa.

The gossip spreads:  The finish line is ever so close.  Very close, somewhere past the bridge.  My calves are feeling like they’ve taken over half of my body weight, in blood.

Still:  I pick up the pace.

Past the cowboy offering swings of vodka on the sideline.  Past the flamboyantly dancing chicken suit.  Past the gentleman jogging in a pink tutu.  Past the girl running with a pair of fairy wings on her back.

Past, past, past!

Past the wide-eyed boy looking up at his mother with complete worship.  (Joseph?)  Past the little girl running like a girl along her mother’s thigh.  Both are wearing matching t-shirts that say, “RUN LIKE A GIRL!”

And who knows just how long I’ve been running; but suddenly, there is some sort of a tilt — a bump on the road, a hill — and:  I see the blue banner of the finish line.  No longer do I feel half of my body weight in my calves, in blood.  Neither am I any longer aware of my playlist.

Here.  We.  Go.

I leap.  I fly.  I zip, in between.  I zoom.

Faces!  Faces!  Faces!  Screaming the name of their beloveds — or just screaming.  Beautiful faces!  Breathless City!  THE City.

Past!  Past!  Past the lingering jogger to my left!  Past the ambitious, athletic honey to my right.  This is it!  I am here!  In.  THE.  City.

I cross the line.

And although I haven’t been watching the mile markers (and I have yet to see my end time), all of this has been for the very doing of it and for the very love of this City — THE City!  My gratitude floods in.  Or rather, it has never really left me, 13.1 miles ago.

In the name of the sport, we’ve all been running for a very long time and committing our personal feats of courage:  It’s a human resilience thing.  And, yes!  It has been completely worth it!  And so has this City.

THE City.

I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions — Are Good!

I was dreaming last night.  I always dream, apparently; and my occasional sleep witnesses always testify to it not being a very pretty picture.  Actually, fuck “pretty”:  Apparently, the “picture” is not even tame.

And every morning, when I make my bed, I must agree with them:  As I untangle a mount of sweat-soaked sheets, feline hair, crumpled up pillows and turned out blankets, I always wonder:

“What the fuck went down in this joint last night?”

Sometimes, I am able to remember these wild dreams in the morning.  But they have to be particularly disturbing for me to launch into the research of their meaning.  One thing is for sure, though:  My brain is never at a deficit — for bloody metaphors.  (Now, okay:  They aren’t always “bloody” bloody, but when they are, they make Quentin Tarantino’s flicks seem like Disney toons in comparison.)

Some metaphors get written down.  Most of the time though, the dreams simply get retold to their participants:

“Had a dream about you,” I usually start.

“Oh yeah?”  And the poor, non-expecting suckers always get so excited:  They are clueless as to what I’m about to unload onto them.  “What about?”

“A’right:  Here we go.  You’ve asked for it.”

As I watch my dreams’ cast members get petrified and puzzled, their faces deconstructing into a Miro-esque canvas, I think:

“I could’ve given Freud a fucking head trip or two.  Dora’s got nothin’ on V!”

And in the mean time, my people have no idea about the challenge of my having to choose calmer vocabulary to describe the utter atrocities they were doing in my head the night before.  Still, even when watered down by my mercy, this shit ain’t “pretty”.  Or “tame”.

“So… Yeah.  You go figure this one out now,” I tell ‘em.  “And, um…  Have fun with that!  Yourr velkom.”

During the times of coping with loss, such as death or a break-up (same shit by the way!), my dreams get even more intensified.  It’s hard to believe that my head can go even further out, and yet it does.  Sometimes, I get more than one viewing in one night.  Several scenarios, one madder than the previous one, play out against my closed eyelids.  So, no wonder I tend to get reacquainted with insomnia during times of change:  It’s not that I have troubles sleeping:  I just don’t want see this sick shit again.

But last night, I had a dream that made me realize that I’ve finally hit the bottom of my current, death-related disturbance.  Just two nights ago, in my dream, I got struck by a weird looking black snake with erected scales.  I woke up screaming.  (Lovely!)  So, when I finally talked myself into hitting the pillow yesternight, I was prepared to be awake — and screaming — in a matter of just a few hours.  Instead:

I dreamt of San Francisco.

It was like that one passage in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that signifies the end of the world, or death;  or the ultimate love:  “In the Hall of Continental Principalities; Heaven, a city much like San Francisco.”

All the major players of my life were scattered around a Victorian house in a small vineyard, somewhere by the Ocean.  (We couldn’t hear that ancient monster, but we tasted its salt in the air.)  And I couldn’t see all the cast members, but somehow I knew:  Everyone was there.

My godchild who’s grown into a less dainty version of Frida Pinto was writing poetry on a crocheted blanket in the tall grass of my front yard.  (Or was it a dissertation on curing cancer via meditation?)  Her mother — my best friend, the love of my life — was reclining nearby, gently stroking her daughter hair, looking older, like her own mother; yet still in awe of time.

Younger women, related to me by spiritual adoption, not blood, were dusting off a rustic wooden dinner table by the bushes of lilacs.

I could hear the voices of my friends:  

My brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter was punctuated by the clicking of shutters, was making my motha feel young and beautiful again:  He was making her howl;

Women who had married other women and gave paths to more women; who have granted me a dozen of artistic births throughout my own life but never claimed authorships of it — they were gathering giant strawberries from heavy vines underneath apple trees;

Broken hearts that have been replenished by my love — but never fixed — were nibbling on platters of Mediterranean snacks coming out of my kitchen on a verandah with chimes;

Exhausted artists, always so hard on themselves but so kind on me, were napping in hammocks and tree houses;

A fellow insomniac with the voice of Tom Waits was sitting on the front steps, and with his poignant imitations of the human race was making me do spit takes, over and over, into my glass of Malbec;

Lovers who have loved me — but loved my freedom even more — were arguing over a game of backgammon in my master bedroom;

A reincarnation of Nina Simone was singing anecdotes to gypsies up in the attic while they unpacked and dusted off my books;

The sound of wood chopping resonated from the garden:  Dad!  Dad, refusing to give up on his country’s habits, was getting his pre-dinner workout on.

Were we all living together, or had we gathered there, to rest; to drink away the night?  Had I flown in my hearts to celebrate the news of another book contract — or some incurable disease? 

And what had happened to the world, in the mean time:  Had we had survived another Chernobyl?  Were we even closer to the coming of the end?  Or had we snapped to it — finally! collectively! — and retracted our mistakes, apologized for the gaps in our love and redeemed ourselves with more kindness, served for dinner?

I didn’t know.  But this morning, as I untangled my sweat-soaked sheets, I remembered the talk with my brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter just a few nights ago was making me feel young and strong again (and it was keeping me awake from my nightmares).

“Is the end of the world still coming; or is it the beginning of it?” I asked him then.

“But does it matter?” he answered.  “We’ll still be kicking ass — with kindness.”

Pardon You?!

Dear Ex-Whatevers:

I’ve had you on my ego’s mind lately.  Blame it on the current era of my life in which I’ve finally stepped up to my self-copyrighted standards and reached for what I’ve deserved all along; but my ego’s little trip these days is to be witnessed by those that have tripped me up before.

“See!  I’m still walking!” it wants to throw over the shoulder at those I’ve left behind.

While I was never the one to lack dreams, these days I’ve finally harnessed the courage to get me to them.  Although the manifestations of success are still audible primarily to me — there are no manuscripts published yet, no dream jobs to speak of, no gypsy journeys committed around the world to reunite with my heritage — but oh how close I am to becoming what I was always supposed to be!  (The bitchy irony here, of course, is that my lacks, my insufficiencies were self-manufactured all throughout.  I am the reason I’ve slowed down before.  I am the one to trip myself up.)

“See:  Still standing!” my ego wishes to telegraph to the past players who had no comprehension, patience, or — let’s just be honest here! — acceptance for the girl I was always becoming.

But why?!

“Why the hell are you dwelling on the fuckers?” the stronger, wiser girls of mine bitch-slap my slower Self who, truth be told, can be a real sucker.

They are correct:  The memories of the past losses — and the last asses — tend to slow down my step.  But there is “a method to my madness,” I realize:  FORGIVENESS.  Fucking forgiveness!  The bitch is high-maintenance, isn’t it?!  One can earn herself bloody blisters and very high bills from her shrink when chasing it.  Forgiveness demands work, and it is the type of work that comes with no owner’s manual.  It is only between you and you; and despite your girlfriend’s or mother’s endless advice, only you can do the heavy lifting of brutal honesty and self-knowledge.

But what even I didn’t comprehend, despite the three decades of fucking around and being fucked with — is that forgiveness is a bloody chameleon.  Not only does forgiveness vary depending on its owner and that owner’s past; not only does it take an encyclopedia of diverse methods to access — but it changes along with you. If, immediately after the loss, it feels right to be angry while maintaining a distance between you and the wrongdoer — then, at that moment, that is all forgiveness is meant to be.  After months of copying, it may change to a feeling of lightness (and maybe an occasional nausea at the sound of your ex’s name) — then, that is forgiveness at that moment.  For some, eliminating all contact with an ex is the way to go; and that little imaginary death is their way.  I always aspired to be the fuckin’ Mother Teresa with my ex-fuckers — tending to our friendships for the sake of the lessons, and the stories, and the blah-blah-blah.  No matter how idiotic it appeared to my girls, that — was my forgiveness.

Oh sure, I wish I were the type of a girl to let Beyonce simplify my emotional baggage via her lyrics of arrogant feminism or angry regret:

“And keep talking that mess, that’s fine!

But could you walk and talk at the same time?!”

Uhm-hmm:  to the left, to the left!

But you see, though, my comrades:  I like digging through the mess for answers — sometimes doubled over because the pain has taken the wind out of me — and get my hands nice ‘n’ dirty.  I’m more of a Nina Simone gal:  well lived-in, well-used, wrathful, self-sufficient and little bit insane; writing her lyrics with a nose-bleed and a foaming mouth:

“I hold no grudge

And I forgive you your mistakes.

But forgive me if I take it all to heart

And make sure it doesn’t start again.”

But alas!  Here is a little “aha” moment for V, as of very recently:  Despite the ego’s desire to be witnessed by those whose mistakes have gotten me here — I want no part of them. For a change, I’ve lost all desire to carry the baggage.  Can’t I just check it in somewhere?!  Yes, I can:  on my bloody pages!  Commemorating my exes on the blank canvases of my own is my way of honoring them; and I may even feel a pinch of gratitude for those tales of defeat — but that, my dear ex-whatevers, my fuckin’ ghosts, is as far as we go.  I’ll let the ego telegraph my successes when the unconscious is activated at nighttime, behind my closed eyelids; but those smoke signals shall be the only ones sent your undeserving way.

So, take it away, Nina:

“I’m the kind of people

You can hurt once in a while.

But crawling — just ain’t my style:”

The Way to YOUR Heart — is Through HIS Stomach

Me:  this morning, mildly disheveled, getting ready to leave his crib:

“What should I write about today?” 

Him:  stretched out the couch while watching the news and looking like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—every inch of him is proportional perfection:

“You’ve got to teach these women how to cook.”

True that:  As of this morning, we were both suffering from a food hangover from my last night’s cookout. 

When V gets in the mood to cook:  watch out!  First off, there is some list making involved with a KGB-style interrogation of the future guests on their dietary restrictions and preferences.  Then, the research begins.  Besides the modest collection of my own cooking inventions, I consult my gods and goddesses of cooking:  Jamie for a more rustic menu, Martha—when I seek perfection; and Nigella—when I expect to get laid (after the dishes are done). 

Food shopping with me tends to get quite intense for every party involved.  First, I don’t want any tagalongs who’ll set me back by twirling and smelling every sale item on display at Whole Foods.  I deal with my list—while you shut up and carry the basket!  I march through the store, with my hair yanked back into a brutal bun and a permanent frown similar to the one on the forehead of a heart surgeon.  Then, I proceed to cross-examine the clerks about the best of the best of their produce.  I read the labels in the aisles while continuing to frown, which prevents all commission-crazed sales staff from chatting me up.  I do lighten up a bit when surrendering my money to the cashier:  A few flippant remarks and self-deprecating jokes—and I feel like I’ve reached my daily quota of niceness.  As soon as my trunk is loaded, however, I am back to the Amazon-on-Wheels Act, honking my way through the parking lot and speeding off to my sparkling clean kitchen.

The actual process of cooking—is like perpetual foreplay, as if life itself were my lover.  It begins with stretching some skimpy clothes over my body, leaving the arms exposed and the legs—stark naked.  I prefer some Nina Simone moaning and grunting in the background, waking my empathetic heart and disturbing the hormonal balance in my ovaries.  A lit candle or two in my work area—is a must.  Then, I begin unloading my shopping bags; and my curiosity with substances is awakened.  Now is the time to sniff and lick and twirl and measure and exclaim laconic odes of gratitude—for the abundance and the time to enjoy it; for the company and the very process.  Here, barefoot in the kitchen, I summon the voices of my gods and goddesses again; study their notes—and leap into a two-to-three hour improvisation.

What happens to my guests?  They are ordered “to chill.”  Sometimes, I jam a glass of wine into their palms, or a platter of hors d’oeuvres worthy of a Dionysian feast.  The main thing:  is to stay in my vicinity—but away from my stove.  Never do I demand another pair of helping hands because they’ll just fuck with my shit, already in various degrees of steaming and roasting and sizzling and baking.  But my lucky beneficiaries are guaranteed to be entertained as I leap and slide between the sink and the fridge, break out into a few tribal dance moves and stuff their mouths with teases of the upcoming masterpiece dinner.  I demand they continue to speak to me even if I’m muttering like a witch over her cauldron.  Be near me, be yourself, but please don’t help me—that is V’s recipe for every partnership in life.

After years of embracing the Juliette Binoche in Chocolat in my own self, I’ve learned that the last few minutes of the meal-making are crucial.  They are all about timing.  That’s when the combinations are matched into harmonies or flavor dissonances; when the perfect temperatures are hopefully achieved; and—my favorite—when the arrangement of the display happens.  The magic.  The feast for the eyes.  The foreplay via the tongue. 

The secret here, however, is to keep your mind and heart on the guests.  They are the very objects of these generosities in progress; the witnesses with whom you’ve chosen to celebrate your life.  The contradiction in my process, however—is that by then, I prefer to chase them out of my kitchen entirely.  So, I behold them in my mind’s eye:  Is my company a woman of the warmest heart and her 3-year old baby girl?  Is it a friend making a rest stop in between his bouncing all around the world, in search of art, and consequentially—sex?  Is it a beloved boy who’s granted me unconditional space and time in which to recover from a heartbreak?  Or is it a hedonistic girlfriend whose zest for life has yanked me out of many depressions?  They are my chosen people.  My fucking army of survivors and defenders.  All this—is happening for their sake.

So, what I can teach you, my ladies, is that, as every other activity in life, cooking mustn’t be a mundane chore; a weight pulling you under in the listless current of every day responsibilities.  It is up to you to negotiate with your partner—or friends—how and when you prefer to cook.  You can choose to cook on that rare occasion when your heart is overwhelmed with generosity.  Or:  never!  If you absolutely hate cooking—for your man’s, your own, and for fucking god’s sake communicate that!  Don’t turn it into a reason to resent him.  Don’t hold a grudge against your assumed responsibilities as a woman because you’ve never mentioned just how much you hate being in the kitchen.  Because I swear:  It will show in your meal—and ruin your relationship.

But then again, why would you deny yourself the following hedonistic pleasures?

“Without Love — There is Nothing.”

Today, I woke up feeling quite melancholic.

“Well, duh?!  You bitch are Russian,” you just might say.  “Don’t you guys pass out with your head collapsed amidst empty shot glasses and wake up reciting Chekhov over a cup of oil-black coffee?”

Da.  So, that happens! 

But V is not V if she won’t analyze the shit out of a situation.  My pondering usually looks like this:  With my face hidden behind a curtain of frizzy gypsy hair and my forehead scrunched up to eventually give me a headache, I pace around with a very firm step I’ve inherited from my mother.  While doing so, I look down—and only down!—which has made my previous lovers wonder if:

1.  I was dangerously pissed off; and

2.  if I was about to hurt them. 

(Trust me, no self-respecting American wants an angry Russian on his hands:  It’s just not that therapeutic for the cock!)  In other words:  I look fucking intense and there ain’t nothing anyone can do to snap me out of it.  Men have tried and failed, painfully.  Embarrassingly.  Because the worst thing a person can do to me in that moment is torture me with interrogations on what may be wrong or what he can do to help me.  No one can do jack shit!  I am my own responsibility, like the only child that I am.  I am my only source of misery and I am the creator of my light.  As a fifteen-year old, I once made my father—a Soviet Army official and the biggest power player in our town at the time—weep and turn gray in front of my eyes when I told him that I would be leaving his country (not mine!) and he had one choice of action:  to support me unconditionally—but never financially!  So, what skill can a lovely American with a charmed life summon to cope with a stubborn, high-strung, survivor’s will of mine?  Nada.  Nothing.  Thank you very much:  but I got if from here!    

Back to reality.  It took me a few hours of Nina Simone surfing to find the reason for this morning’s broodiness of mine.  It eventually revealed itself a couple of nights ago, when a beloved suffered in my arms from a friend’s betrayal.  A generous soul, he had been unjustly attacked by a person in the grips of jealousy and self-loathing.

“Is that all there is?!” my beautiful boy wondered.  “Does it ever get easier?”

Oh, but it does my darling.  Oh how it does!  Because these relationships are mere lessons, and eventually—you fucking learn.  Some people carry on with their friendships, no matter how disappointing they’ve turned out to be.  Then, they couple up with a person and a shrink that annoys them the least—and proceed to bitch and moan about the failure of human nature in others, and to judge their friends behind their backs.  They still hang with the haters and the competitors, only to be disappointed again; and to bitch and moan; and bitch and moan; and bitch and moan.  That’s one approach (in which one must get a certain level of enjoyment from being miserable).

I personally dance to a different tune.  I stubbornly keep the high standards in every love of mine.  My friends are a group of meticulously selected, time-tested Mafia of ball-breakers and perfectionists; and I can count them on my two hands.  They are the bunch whose numbers I’ve tattooed into my memory for an extremely rare occasion when I might need help.  For those few, I shall book a red-eye to anywhere in the world and double over with pain for the length of the flight because they are my very limbs and heart.  Their names have been written into my will; because unless this gypsy steals a child to inherit her money—they are the masters of the Estate of V.  They are my family—because my life has granted me none!  They are my witnesses with the harshest verdicts (but not harsher than the ones I reach on my own) and an army of shadows that follows me through my chaotic existence.  But if I just happen to reach back to grab them—they metamorphose into a fucking armor. 

The rest—I call “acquaintances.”     

“A pretty grim outlook, Russian,” you might justly point out. 

Yep.  Life’s a cunt.  But here is its secret.  (Man!  I’ve gotta start chargin’ for this shit!  ‘s alright though:  I’ll just have to settle for my first book contract!):

A life is nothing without love.  Life summons as much of an impact as a kernel of sand in a sand storm:  The world may know of its existence—theoretically—but neither does the world care about or empathize with its journey, let alone its suffering.  The only way to matter—is to love.  To love your Self first—yes!—to love your Self enough to do the best you can.  But most importantly—to love another.  Because that Other is the ear and the eye and the skin that will remember your happening.  You will not be forsaken!  You will not die forgotten if you’ve had the presence of soul to shut up the bullshit of your ego and to surrender to changing your and at least another person’s make-up—by loving.

So, this gypsy is calm.  Because she’s got herself an army of shadows!  Her Mafia of Lovers that marches to the beat of her heart.  Because no matter the scar tissue all over my brown skin, I shall never—I pray!—look at an opportunity to love and wonder, “Why should I?” but nod, and reveal myself from behind the gypsy-hair curtain, and utter:  “Fuck yeah.”