Tag Archives: nomadic

“Steadily Rewindin’, Tryin’ to Make Some Hot Shit… Oh, What a Job This Is!”

Trying to write at a coffee shop:  This nomadic lifestyle of mine is slowly taking a toll on me.

The joint that I’ve chosen is not on the beach, but it carries the name of one.  And it comes with a specific array of noises.  Noises and egos.

They aren’t corporate egos, thank goodness.  They belong to life-long outcasts and beautiful, quirky kids who are stubborn and mad enough — to keep at their stories:  At their art.

Like this tatted-up boy right here, with bleached hair:  He is smaller than me.  He walks in through the glass back door, smiles sheepishly; grabs the handle before the door slams and shuts it, slowly.  Quietly.  He knows there are others here — stubborn and mad enough to keep at their stories.  To keep at their art.

Just look at him!  I betcha he’s got a story or two, and he’s most likely figured out his medium by now.  So, he’s certainly gotten himself a hefty ego.  And that ego nags — until each story is told:  on paper or on his skin, or braided in between the strings of his guitar.

The boy leaves.  I notice that the bleached hair is actually brushed into a well-sculpted mohawk.  He does the handle thing again, looks at me, from the other side of the glass door; smiles sheepishly.  Thank goodness — for his specificity!

Shit!  I’ve gotta focus.  I still haven’t written, this morning.

I walk over to the counter.  I can tell by the way one barista is bickering at the other, under her breath, that the two ladies aren’t really getting along.  This one:  brown, pretty, with striking gray eyes is yanking the handle of the espresso grinder like she means it.  I catch myself wondering if her wrist hurts at night, and if that shoulder of hers needs healing.  Does it makes her moan, at times, about “her fucking day job”?  Does it fuel her stubborn madness — to keep at her stories?  To keep at her art?

Just look at her!  By the way she arches her eyebrows and tightens her mouth, I know she’s been doing this gig for a while.  And she’s really good at it.  There is a routine in her movements:

Yank, yank, yank, yank.  Swipe across with a single forefinger.  Press down the tamper, tap the side with it.  Press down again.  Brush away the loose grinds.  Get ready to brew.

This girl is a virtuoso!  She’s found art in the most mundane of occupations.

Okay.  Shit.  Focus.  I still haven’t written, this morning.

The girl taking my order is also the one working the milk steamer.  She is a bit bossy.  Some may even call her “bitchy”.  “Tightly wound”.  “With prickly temperament”.  (I would know:  I get called those things — all the fucking time!)  I watch her maneuvering each pot of steaming milk above a paper cup.

She reminds me of a woman conductor who has once taught me music:  That older creature of grace was an untypical occurrence, an exception in the world of classical music.  This one — must be some sort of an artist as well.  And I wonder if she’s got the balls to be a pioneer, in her very specific thing.

“Hey, now!” she says to a young skater boy who struts into the joint, through the glass back door.  He has a headful of African curls tamed with a backward turned cap.

The counter girl lights up:  She still knows how to adore…

Shit!  Focus, focus, focus!  Still haven’t written!  And it’s already — an after-fuckin’-noon.

I wait for my latte:  It’s being made, with such specificity.  They never serve watered down coffee here, with an aftertaste of burnt espresso grinds.  Timing is very important.  So is taking the time.

I pass a row of tables.  Each is occupied by a youth at work.  The girl at an aluminum table is wearing orange earplugs:  This joint comes with a specific array of noises.  Noises and egos.

“Yank, yank, yank, yank,” — is coming from behind the bar.  “Tap.  Pause.  Tap.”

And on top of that, there is a hysterical rockstar screaming over the radio speakers.  I’ve been in enough of these joints, over the course of my nomadic lifestyle, to have learned good music.  This — is not good.

The radio goes silent.  I look back:  The bossy counter girl is messing with the radio stations.  A sweet reggae beat takes over.

The boy in a hoodie, at the table next to mine, starts nodding his messy head.  His face is wrinkly with pillow marks, but it’s intense.  He is so young, yet already so specific.

Just look at him!

Shit!

Focus!

Write!

The tatted-up boy with bleached out hair returns to use the bathroom.  He does the handle thing.

The bathroom door opens:  A youth of about twenty rolls out of it, in a wheel-chair.  Damn!

He passes me.  His face is kind.  He smiles.

The girl with earplugs gets up, packs up quietly.  Leaves through the glass back door.  Does the handle thing.

A Mexican stunner walks in:  Long black hair, butterflies instead of eyelashes.  She smiles at me, full heartedly.  Does the handle thing.

There is so much beauty in specificity!  There is so much beauty in compassion!  And it makes it so much easier — to keep at my art.

“Shit!  Let me get this for you!”  I leap out of my seat, to help a lovely young mother who’s trying to get through the glass back door, with her hands full.

I smile, hold the door; say:  “No problem!”  And quietly — do the handle thing.

“But It’s Hard to Come Down — When You’re Up in the Air.”

“Where are you going?” P asked me on the phone during my monthly calls to Motha Russia, after I announced that I was busy packing.

“Eh.  A little bit here and there,” I answered while measuring the contents of my closet against the mouth of my giant suitcase, gaping open on the floor.  “Here and there.  You know.”

I haven’t really finalized my travel plans yet.  I mean:  I knew I was heading back to Motha Russia — eventually.  That explained the uproar currently happening in the family:  They haven’t seen me in sixteen years, so the homecoming trip promised to be loaded.

But I wasn’t making that daunting trip for another couple of months.  In the mean time, I was giving up my apartment and packing up my giant suitcase.

Apparently there was nothing out of the norm about the vagueness of my plans, because P was agreeing with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Da, da, da!” he said.  “I’m listening.”

Dad had always been on my side.  He had to be; because I never left him much of a choice but to get used to the nomadic habits of mine.  I mean:  All I ask for — is my freedom.  Is that so hard?

Penelope Cruz

But apparently, in order to accept my antsy temperament and the life-long addiction to wanderlust, I also ask for a lot of trust.  Trust was exactly what I relied on when I announced my initial decision — sixteen years ago — to leave Motha Russia in pursuit of my education abroad.  Trust was demanded when I later moved to New York, for the same reason; or when I committed the daunting trip back to Cali after my share of victories and defeats on the East Coast.

All along, my relocations were telegraphed to my folk back in Motha Russia on a monthly basis.  Considering the homeland chaos, I took it upon myself to keep the connection alive; and I would call, from wherever I landed.

“I’m here, for a little bit.  Here and there.  You know,” I’d say, while unpacking another giant suitcase.

As far as I was concerned, I was fulfilling my daughterly obligations beautifully.  So, whenever P would voice as much as a hesitation or a worry, I’d go bonkers:

“I mean…  All I’m asking for — is my freedom!  Is that so hard?”

P wouldn’t have much of a choice.  So, he would agree with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Nyet, nyet, nyet,” he’d say.  “I’m listening.”  (Dad had always been on my side.) 

No one knows the responsibility of freedom better — than those of us who vow our lives to its pursuit. 

I mean:  All I am asking for — is my freedom.  And all I am asking of my loves — is trust.

My addiction to wanderlust began in the first years of my life.  Mere months after my birth, P — who devoted his life to building the Soviet Empire as an Army man — was being relocated from the East Coast of Motha Russia into the less populated inlands.  The first couple of our moves would be done by train; and in the beginning of his career, P could track his ascent through the ranks by the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“You’d always sleep easily, on trains,” he’d say any time I told him about the utter calmness I feel these days, when on a railroad.

His bigger promotion would take us into the middle of the country — into much more brutal winters and lands.  For first time in my life, we would have to take a plane ride.

I wouldn’t be older than a year when motha packed me into a tiny suitcase that she kept unzipped on her lap during the 4-hour flight.  She would have to get inventive and make a transient crib out of it, stuffing it with a pillow.  I would be bundled up into a blanket and wrapped with a ribbon:  A tradition taught to Russian mothers by the brutal winters of my Motha’land.

For the duration of the flight, I wouldn’t fuss at all.

“All I could see from my seat — was your button nose peaking out of the tiny suitcase:  You were sleeping,” P would tell me whenever I confessed about the utter peace I always feel these days, when up in the air.

In order to feed my life-long addiction to wanderlust, I’ve had to grow up quite quickly.  Motha Russia wouldn’t leave my generation much of a choice after the collapse of the Soviet Empire that our parents devoted their lives to building.  So, instead of living in ruins, many of us chose to pursue a life — and an education — elsewhere.  So, we packed our tiny suitcases and we left.  We had to give up our childhood — and to grow up.

Because all we asked for — was our freedom.  And for my generation, it was indeed very, very hard.

Because all I’ve asked for — is my freedom.  And as someone who’s vowed her life to the pursuit of it, I’ve paid all the consequences of my choices in full — and they have indeed been very, very hard.

So:

“Da, da, da!  I’m listening!” P is always saying, quite enthusiastically, on the phone.

He — is always on my side.

And after sixteen years of my untimely adulthood, he agrees with my pursuit of that calmness and peace that I always feel when transient; when in pursuit of my self-education — when in pursuit of my freedom.

“But You’re Innocent When You Dream… When You Dream…”

It’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

I’ve gotten into this terrible habit, in the middle of my sleep:  When the alarm clock goes off, I yank its cord out of the wall.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if that thing has a snooze button:  I’ve never had to use it.  And I wish I could give up the habit, but I do it when barely awake.  So, it’s kinda like sleep walking.  Sleep yanking.

The thing is:  I LOVE to sleep.  I can hibernate for hours.  I sleep to cope with stress, loss, life.  I sleep on the road.  I’ve got no problem sleeping in cars, planes, tents; in new beds, in new towns.  The bigger the change — the longer I take to wake up.  Sometimes, I think I sleep to return to my innocence; or to somewhat restore it, at least.

And once I’m out, there is no noise that can wake me.

Motha always jokes:

“Ze Russian tanks rrollin’g thrrough town von’t vake you.”

(This — is Russian humor.  Welcome!)

But on the other hand, I never seem to have enough time in the day to get shit done; so I rarely want to get to bed, at night.

First, there are my survival gigs:  The hustle.

Then, there are auditions and my projects of choice:  The very reason I’ve landed in LA-LA.

The rest of my time is gobbled up by writing.  Every week, the art claims about forty hours.  I’ve counted them the other day because I began to wonder why I was always so tired:  constantly wanting to sleep, but never wanting to get to bed; sleeping past the alarm, then running late for the rest of the day.

I clock-in for it every day, first thing in the morning.  And it must be the only reason I get to bed at all:  to recharge the brain and to start from scratch, all over again.  To return to my innocence — or to somewhat restore it.  To remember it, at least.

The rest of my comrades — are sleepless as well.  First of all, most of the time they’re hungover on jet lag, not remembering in which timezone they’ve landed a few days ago.  They are artists, bohemians, gypsies:  They sleep in my car on the way to or from LAX.  My comrades play by their own rules, live by their own clocks, in timezones of their invention.  They wear their watches like eccentric wristbands.  They use their phones and the bedtime of their beloveds to tell time.  And there have been many nights we’ve used to reconvene, while the rest of the world has long gone to sleep.

Because our love must be how we return to our innocence — or how we restore it, somewhat, at least.

“Bloody hell!  I went to bed at five this morning!” my brother from New York is always likely to tell me.  His voice is raspy when he wakes, but child-like.  Give him a cup of coffee and eggs with chocolate (a recipe of his own invention) — and he is ready to play again.

Innocent.

He should be here, in a few days; and for a week, my sleeping schedule will get jolted into a strange line-up of sleepless nights, midnight talks, crashing on couches, mid-day showers, and running late.  But there will also be tearful laughter, endless talks of art and love; and a closeness so intimate, it will rejuvenate my hopes for the human kind.  And even if it won’t return me to my innocence — it will somewhat restore it, at least.

Back in my college days, a decade ago, I used to be able to pull off weeks of not sleeping.  The weight of the world used to be on my shoulders — or at least, the world’s most poignant questions.  But then, none of us slept those days, especially before finals or the deadline to send our college newspaper to the printing house.  We were young artists, bohemians, writers, dreamers — lovers of the world.  We already suspected we couldn’t return the world to its innocence; but, perhaps, we could restore it, somewhat:  with our art, our hopes, the poetry of our youth.

With New York City as our playground in the backyard of our college, there never seemed enough reasons to get to bed.  But once we did — often at five, six in the morning — there was no noise that could wake us.  We slept calmly, as the innocent do; but only for a couple of hours, before class (and before starting the work from scratch).  Because there was nothing to restore yet.  Our hearts were full.  And we still knew — how to love.

But today, it’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

These days, I’m always seemingly late.  There is never enough time — to return the world to its innocence, to solve its most poignant questions — and there is less and less of it, as I get older.

The somberness of the day set-in as soon as I checked-in with the world before sitting down to work:  A decade ago, we have all lost our innocence — in New York City; and for the rest of the world, restoring it got a lot harder.

But we continue to clock-in, every day:  my comrades, artists; bohemians, poets; lovers, beloveds.  

Because even if we cannot restore the world’s innocence, we can at least preserve our own.  That is the meaning of an artist’s life; his or her most poignant responsibility.  

“We Live in a Beautiful World! Yeah, We Do! Yeah, We Do!”

I had been awake for less than ten minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.

In comparison to my own bed at home, this creation underneath me better resembled a cluster of clouds.  It had engulfed me so quickly last night, I couldn’t even remember my last words.  Or my last thoughts.  But I was pretty sure, it had something to do with home.

I fell asleep with my window shades half drawn; and now, I could see the fluffy marine layer floating above what looked like a prehistorical forest.  They stretched for miles — these dense clusters of clouds — blocking the sun, yet dissipating quite quickly; and they slid through the tops of this quirky flora:  Palm trees amidst ancient pines decorated with some dainty lime-green growths that looked like the hair of mermaids.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where nymphs and pixies come to play?)

Right past this playground of magical creatures, the Ocean stretched for miles — into the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  Around here, the waves were untamed by piers, or any other signs of humanity’s collective ego; and they were gigantic.  The Ocean thrashed against cliff rocks, modestly populated by idillic homes.  No two homes looked alike, but they inspired a stream of thought that I couldn’t pinpoint last night.  But then again, I was pretty sure it had something to do with home.

All throughout the day, the Ocean roared and hissed; and at night, it sang a chesty lullaby about the opposite shores it had licked on its way here.  The glorious monster was intimidating — and endless! — and only the fluffy marine layer could have known where it was coming from; or where it ended.

There was one small patch of land where I could approach it closer, on foot, without having to climb down cliffs.  I had to walk in shoes, though, because the beach was covered with moonstones and sea glass.  No sand.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where Aphrodite spilled a chest of her jewelry?)

I did try to get my feet in the water.  Having climbed over a lagoon circumvented by seaweed and lily pads, I kept my eyes right on the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  On the opposite side of this calmer pool of water, young boys were taking turns swimming to shore.  One of them reminded me of my son:  a brown, fearless rascal.

At one point, my hand slipped off the rock and I tested the water:  It was warm and velvety.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were the sirens come out to gargle their throats and soothe their tired vocal cords.)

On the other side of my climb, a family of brown people started running to the shore.

“Look!  Look!” the fearless rascals were ahead of their adoring mother, leaping over the moonstones, pointing at the shiny surface right past the hissing, crashing, foaming waves.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but he did soften a little when he saw the skin of my exposed stomach:  I was just about the same color as his woman.

I too began moving in the direction of the migration, looking right at the horizon from where the fluffy, now scattered marine layer seemed to be crawling.  The water closer to the shore was playing patty cake with sun rays; and the entire surface seemed as luminous as a mirror.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were Neptune finds his reflection while brushing out his graying beard after having breakfast?)

With my eyes, I followed the direction of the tiny brown fingers.  But all I could see was:  The Ocean playing patty cake with sun rays, right into the horizon.  The fluffy layer had dissipated almost entirely, and only a couple of feathered brushes reminded of its short existence.

But, oh!  Something had just jumped out of the water — look! — and it curved its shiny back.  But before I could figure it out, it blinded me with its shine and dropped back into the Ocean.

Then, there came another one!  And yet another!

“Dolphins!  Dolphins!  Look!” the brown rascals seemed beside themselves, leaping through moonstones and sea glass, pointing their tiny brown fingers at the glistening backs.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but even he softened a little at the sight of all this glory.

I never reached the water yesterday.  Instead, I stood:  mesmerized, blinded.  All along the cliffs behind Moonstone Beach I could see idillic homes.  No two homes were alike, but every one — was lovely.

My own home:  Not the home I have now, but the one I was about to find elsewhere in the world.  And I was making a bet that it would be on a shore very much like this one:  Where dolphins could play babysitters to my brown, fearless rascals; and where every night, the Ocean would sing them chesty lullabies about all the other magnificent shores it licked on the way here.

My run through a wildlife reserve didn’t last for longer than thirty minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.  Every sign of life left me more and more exhausted with excitement:

The single otter that surfed on its back through the roaring, hissing, crashing, foaming waves made me laugh every time its nonchalant white snout resurfaced above.

The boisterous chipmunks with focused faces were making a meal out of unidentifiable scraps they found in the layer of succulents.  I thought of the way I had always eaten apples:  with their core, sometimes using their stems as toothpicks, afterward.  Would my brown, fearless rascals inherit my quirky ways?

And oh, how magnificently the red-tailed hawk soared above!  Every time the wind picked up, it negotiated the flow with its black, oily wings; then kept cutting through the air.

What fearless grace!

And in the field of dried weeds, a couple of dogs were beside themselves:  dashing back and forth between their adoring masters and the rest of the untamed life.

I had been in this town for less than a day, yet I was already having a gratitude overload; all thoughts — leading home.

“Beggin’, Beggin’ You-Ooh-Ooh: Put Your Lovin’ Hand Out, Baby!”

“Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America…” *

Well, actually, it’s more like a flight to San Francisco, at the break of dawn — and I’m chasing my insomnia.

As I’ve done often, especially when transient, I’m watching other women, collecting the evidence on how they wear their skin; on what it must have been like to be them — to be not me.  To be unlike me.

I haven’t had many women in my earlier childhood to run my life by:  Thrown into a nomadic lifestyle early on by my father’s profession, I didn’t get to keep my girlfriends for long.  And motha?  Well, motha was too young to be a mother; so she would eventually become my girlfriend — but not until I myself was ready for it.  (That last one had to happen on my own terms.  Sorry, motha.)  At first, I would start to strut a little bit ahead of her, increasingly more on my own, more decisively; until she would take the lead no longer.

And so, while I’m chasing my insomnia at the break of this particular dawn, peaking through the sliding door of LAX, I watch the girls and women en route to their journeys.  Some are traveling on the arms of their beloveds:

—  Like the little girl sleeping in the most reassuring embrace of her father, with a dog furry like a golden retriever in place of a pillow.  Soak it up, you little one:  It’s going to be tough for other men to measure up.  Little girls born to good fathers end up married to their high expectations for a really long time.  I should know.  But for now, you do have this.  So, soak it up, my little one.

The young girl with a tired smile of someone that has traveled a lot:  You’re walking ahead of a woman that looks like your mother, and I already see the impatience that inspires you to lead the way.  And that’s wonderful.  But don’t forget to look back, my young girl.  Just on occasion, do look back at the one that you seem to despise the most, at times.  She does know you the best — and she knows the best and the worst of you, while hopefully still sticking by you, unconditionally — and for all of that, you despise her at times.

You, beautiful girls, traveling in couplings:  I pray your companions are worthy of your beauty.  But more over, I hope your kindness is worth even more.  They let you take the lead:  these good men of yours volunteering their life to the impossible task of measuring up to your fathers.  So, do look back at them, at times.  They’re just doing their best.

The frail women accompanied by their grown children:  Your life has been a success.  And the equally frail women looked after by the uniformed staff of the airport:  That’s alright, too.

“Your laptop should be in a tray by itself!  Your shoes — placed directly on the conveyer belt!  Do NOT place your keys inside the shoes!”

She is very tired: The security woman regurgitating the same information to my fellow travelers in line.  We are all tired, of course; but the ones she finds herself serving, for the rest of her life — or for now, at least — at least, we are going somewhere.  She, however, gets to stay behind and look over the safety of our journeys.  It must be hard to do this much looking over, on the daily basis, for the rest of her life.  Or for now, at least.  And those that are leaving are often impatient, tried by circumstances; and they are sometimes unkind and so ungrateful.  (Don’t they know she has their safety in mind?)  To look over them — is her job, not necessarily her dream.  And she is so tired of it, for now, at least.

“Does anybody have a nail file?  ANYBODY?  LADIES?!”

This one is standing in the middle of the waiting area by my gate.  She, too, seems tired, but hopped-up on something.  A few younger girls have been jolted by her aggression already.  She has even shaken one of them awake from her tired sleep, and the young one has opened her eyes and smiled with that smile of someone that has traveled a lot.

The hopped-up creature carries on.  She now jolts the lovely hippie with Jolie-esque lips who is listening her headphones and shooting impatient, concerned gazes at Gate 37B.  (We are the only ones without a monitor, so the gurgled announcement by our tired stewardess is the only source of information.  The Jolie-esque hippie can’t hear them, of course; so she jolts herself to remember to pay attention.)

The aggressive female passenger, however, is too hopped-up on something to notice the annoyance she is arousing in the youthful creature:

“Broke a nail!  LOOK!” she shoves her hand under the Jolie-esque lips.  The lovely hippie jumps, readjusts, and as kindly as her tiredness allows — excuses herself.

“Um.  Anyone?  LADIES!  REALLY?!”

“I think I might,” I finally step up to the plate.

The hopped-up female leaps toward me and, while I put away my writing and rummage through my bag for my tired memories as to where I could’ve stored that darn thing, she looms above me.  We are all chasing insomnia right now, on this San Francisco flight at dawn; but she may be chasing something else.

After the mission is accomplished she offers to buy me a drink:  Kindness by affliction.

“Thank you:  I don’t drink,” I say.

“Sorry, what?  WHAT?!” Just like that, she switches off any tired niceness, dismissing the possibility for gratitude and takes offense.  She gets offensive.  “I can’t understand you?!  Do you have an accent?”

Yep:  Definitely, hopped-up on something.  Perhaps, its tiredness she can no longer handle without an affliction.

I excuse myself to the bathroom:  We’re done here, sister!  The Jolie-esque lips shoot me a compassionate smile.  I don’t look back.

“Flight VX (gurgle-gurgle) to San Francisco is now boarding at (gurgle-gurgle).”

The handsome Latin woman with perfectly glossed lips and a tired gaze has finally come out to announce the clearing skies up north.  She has been so tormented by the impatience of those of us going somewhere.  We tend to be so unkind, sometimes; so ungrateful.

But the important thing is:  The San Francisco skies have cleared, at dawn; and each woman can carry on with her own journey.  We can go now, and hopefully, most of us cannot wait to land.  And as we board the aircraft to chase our mutual insomnia, I look back at the handsome Latin woman behind:

Here is my gratitude, love — and my very tired kindness.

* Kushner, Tony.  Angels in America.