Tag Archives: success

“You See: Everybody — Is Somebody. But Nobody Wants To Be Themselves.”

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming,” he said, holding too lengthy of a pause for an effect.

What he wasn’t realizing was that the habit of breaking-up his thoughts with these loaded silences shot down any effect he was aiming for:  It deflated the importance of his statements, and any urgency in his inspirational speech — to a room full of actors — was going out of the windows.

Although, come to think of it, there weren’t any windows in the joint at all:  We were packed into a black-box theatre of a classroom, like an army of revolutionaries planning a revolt in a basement, somewhere in the jungles of South America.  Everyone was an artist of sorts; quite a few writers — and even a spoken word poetess (she was rad!).

There was a handful of newbies in the room:  You could tell by the way they surveyed everyone with their impressionable and somehow petrified glances.  (Oh, to be new to the chaos of LA!  I wouldn’t want to relive that joy.)  The rest of us — were seasoned residents of the city, not yet veterans of the industry.  But we had all been around the block by now — around several blocks, actually, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

Some seemed jaded, and they sized-up all the previous speakers while never uncrossing their arms for the entirety of a 2-hour lecture.  There were some that loved to hear the sound of their voice; so, every question of theirs turned into a tiny, brooding monologue.  An older actress from Chicago, a bit tipsy from the free wine, had been hollering from the front row as if she were listening to gospel:  Such humanity!  (She was rad!)

Pretty girls — of those, there was plenty.  That’s the one thing guaranteed in LA-LA:  Perpetual beauty that either humbles and inspires — or saddens with its dispensability.

Anyway, he was saying:

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming.” 

The guy was quite tall, slightly on the stocky side.  His non-immaculately white shirt was untucked, with its top half unbuttoned down to his undershirt, also non-white.  He wore jeans and insecurities galore.

Half way through the evening, he took over the job of announcing the speakers from the evening’s MC.

“Who IS this guy?” I caught myself thinking every time he got up, lingered by the director’s chair in the middle of the stage and hogged our time with his prolonged, miserable pauses.

Standing in the corner of a packed room, I had been studying the audience for nearly two hours.  There were a couple of faces I recognized.  A few seemed quite familiar; but then again, as a seasoned resident of LA-LA, you begin to lose track of origins.  And you catch yourself thinking:

“Do I know you?”

“Have we met in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city?”

“Have I seen you in a commercial, or in a waiting room for that commercial’s audition?”

“Or, have I simply bumped into you while we both circled around the blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots?”

A man with Jeremy Irons’ face caught my attention, in a corner of the classroom.  You don’t forget a face like that.  (He was rad!)  But then again, I’d been around the block too many times by now — around many blocks, actually — and I had long begun losing track of origins.

“So… you just gotta…” the man in a non-immaculately white shirt was hanging onto his silences, on stage.

He made some sort of a peculiar gesture with his hand.

The speakers who had preceded him — not necessarily seasoned residents of LA-LA, but definitely veterans of the industry — were quite inspiring.  Passionate, eccentric and honest, they had spoken of their love for the art — and their advocacy of the artists.  They — were rad!

It’s an unusual thing here, in this city.  Back in New York, packed into black-box theaters, one comes to expect talks about the art of it all.  Because there, we prefer to be think of ourselves as craftsmen — artists of sorts — not businesspeople.

But in LA-LA — it’s all about the business!  And in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city, we agree to collect the crumbs of information qualified as networking.

“Because you never know!” they tell us.

So, you learn to surrender.  You better!

You better surrender to the unexplainable chaos of the industry.  You better learn to accept yourself as a seasoned resident of this city.  You better let go of all expectations and stop counting the favors and the debts other people owe you:  No one owes you jack shit!

It takes time and an open mind — to survive here.

It takes a passionate heart to keep bringing the craft into the rooms full of businesspeople; and that heart has got to keep at it, despite having been around several blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

It takes discipline and humility to become a working artist — a veteran of the industry — not just a seasoned, bitter resident.

It takes a love — for the art!

And my own happiest discovery about the business is that thankfully, it still takes GRATITUDE — to persevere.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“I’m Outta Time, And All I Got — Is Four Minutes, Four Minutes! Yeah.”

Another day spent in infinite bouncing between two self-disciplines:  hard work and running.  Because what else IS there?

Well, there is also eating, which I sometimes forget to do.  And sleep.

And then, there is the less disciplined pursuit of making a living.  It’s fine, really:  I’m one of the lucky ones, I continue reminding myself; because most of the time, I get to shuffle my schedule around as if my hours were those shiny marble pieces on a backgammon board.  And it’s an ancient game:  this pursuit of an artist’s life.  Too many have done it before me, but only some have succeeded.  I want to be one of the some; so, I’ve narrowed my days down to two infinite self-disciplines:  hard work and running.

The work has become an anti-anxiety prescription of my own invention.  I hold it up, against my griefs — with time or other people, or even against my departing loves — and I say, “What else IS there?”  But even though I’ve learned to shuffle my hours, when it comes to success — or accomplishment, at least — they still don’t move fast enough.

And I’ve heard it all:  “Impatience is a lack of self-love.”  “Impatience is just energy:  Use it!”  “Meditation!  That’s what you need!”  But when actually in the midst of the hours, with nothing but hard work in sight, these opinions fail to give me any consolation.  So, I wrap up the work — and I go running.

And that’s just another bargain:  running.  Just another bargain I had made with time, so that I can continue doing the hard work, for a little bit longer — after the success happens, or my accomplishment, at least.

And so, the infinite bouncing continues:  I work in order to stop flaunting my impatience toward time and I run — to speed it up.

And in the mean time, there is life, happening in between.  I am not idiotically blind to that.  I see it.  I chip in.  I participate:  in friendships, loves; in my tiny adventures I can afford for very short periods of time (because I always must come back to the less disciplined pursuit of making a living).  But as soon as I am alone again, the infinite bouncing resumes.  And if it weren’t for my comrades — in the midst of their own living, always somehow committed with a lot more patience than I myself can manufacture — it seems I could easily forget about all that life, happening in between.

The other night, one of them had dragged me out:

“I bet you haven’t eaten today,” he said.

“You’re crazy,” I began whining, listing all the work I still had to do.  I’m a pain in the ass:  always hoping for my loves to distract me from my stubborn disciplines; to convince me that there is way too much life, happening in between — and that it’s worth putting the breaks on my infinite bouncing.

“It’s Saturday night,” I carried on.  “Everything is already booked.”

“So, we’ll get take-out!” he said.

I considered.

“Good.  That way, I can get back to work.”

My comrade chuckled and knowingly shook his head:  What a pain in the ass!

We walked into the nearest sushi joint, already packed to the brim.

“See,” I began whining.  “Everything is booked.”

The waitress who got stuck at the host stand that evening, looked up at us, past a million fly-aways in front of her face, and said, “Did you have a reservation?”

I slid out of the way and let my comrade handle that little situation.  I, instead, began studying the floor filled to the brim with families, lovers and comrades.  There were four sushi chefs behind the packed bar, and they seemed to have figured out some sort of a time-traveling trick:  They were moving so fast, the snapping of bamboo rollers in their hands, in between each order, sounded like an orchestra of quirky percussions.  And they were all so serious, in a typical sushi chef fashion:  serious but graceful — total zen masters! — finding the time to answer endless questions from the mesmerized clientele at the bar.

My comrade came up from behind me.

“Would you look at those guys?” I said.

“Zen masters,” he responded and stuffed me under his wing.  Suddenly, my endless bouncing seemed to let up, and I fully surrendered to the temptation to lose track of time.

“How long — is the WAIT?!”

The shrill noise came from the packed lobby.  It echoed past the bar, above the heads of the four serious, graceful sushi chefs, and onto the floor, jolting the first half of the restaurant to pay attention.

I looked back.  She was chubby, with a face full of make-up.  I bet on any other day, I would find her pretty; but the shrill noise made by her lipsticked mouth shocked the shit out of my kindness.  Her man hung back:  Tall, portly, he had crossed his arms and took on what seemed like a habitual expression of resignation.

The waitress looked up past the million fly-aways in front of her face and calmly said:  “Thirty to thirty five…”

She didn’t get a chance to finish:  The shrill noise interrupted her verdict, and jolted the other half of the restaurant to pay attention:

“I CAN’T WAIT THAT LONG!”

She stared at the waitress.  The waitress stared back at her, calmly, past the million fly-aways in front of her face.  The shrill noise-maker turned on her heels and made it over to her man who by now was attempting to camouflage himself into the corner.  He’s no use, she seemed to decide, half-way across the lobby — and marched back over to the waitress, at the host stand.

“Is there another sushi restaurant here?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”  I finally uttered from underneath my comrade’s wing.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” was what the waitress’s face seemed to say as well, from underneath the million fly-aways, in front of her face.

The shrill noise-maker scoffed, turned on her heels again and, again, made it over to her man.  By this point, the camouflaged portly creature stuck in his predicament of a relationship seemed to want to vanish.  Loudly, his woman did the negotiation to which the entire restaurant was meant to pay attention.  And when she marched out, into the night, followed by her defeated man, he gently caught the door she meant to slam shut and closed it, apologetically.

“And Do You Have Any Clue: What I Had to Do — to Get Here?”

“Hey, baby!  When I write — I am the hero of my own shit.”

I watched Hank last night.  I watched his beat-up, used-up, lived-in, wasted, wrinkled, exhausted face with traces of pockmarks digging into his skin like tear trails; and I let his effortless voice lullaby me to sleep:  a meowing of an aged cat on my doorstep, so demented he had forgotten all other pleasures in life but eating and fucking.  But mostly eating though, at this point:  Fucking — had become too strenuous for his joints.

It was a documentary, and a short one at that:  How do you make an epic about someone without an epic life?  Hank had insisted on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; and surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Elevating himself above the rest of us wasn’t his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his colleagues — the pretentious poets who always wished to write about their suffering but who haven’t lived enough, among us, to know what that’s like:  To suffer.  Because suffering — is bad for one’s skin.  (Just look at Hank’s face:  That fuckin’ Bukowski was a wreck!)  And it’s scary.  Suffering is scary.  So, they left it all — to Hank.

Instead, the pretentious poets got themselves jobs as critics and professors.  They became people of higher esteem:  “The professionals”.  People would pay them for their opinions and carefully manipulated big words.  (The bigger the words — the more esteemed the professor.)  And the professionals would wonder how could they suddenly run out of things to write about.  They would try to write about their tired marriages and affairs with their students.  But boredom always makes for terrible plots.  So, they’d return to their criticism and conference papers, with carefully manipulated big words about anything but suffering.

“What are your plans after graduation?” I remember my own teachers prying during the last year of college; and before they could wait for my answer, they’d spew out:  “You should teach!”

“Really?!” I’d think to myself.  “You mean you don’t want me to go backpacking through Europe and learn a dozen of languages from the pillow talks with my future fifty foreign lovers?”

But I wouldn’t say that.  In those days, my intuition wasn’t perfected yet; so I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of that nausea invoked by those well-wishing mentor chats.  Instead, I would just listen, tormented with doubts and restlessness, and with my own temptations for a more esteemed life.  And then, I would look at my watch, demonstratively, and I would say:

“Ow!  I better get to the diner:  I’m working a double to-night.”

Esteem.  It’s kind of like beauty, right?  It’s in the eye of the beholder.  Except that with esteem, you are the beholder — AND you are the subject.  So, it’s entirely up to you, this esteem thing, despite all the other suffering.

There would be many more waitressing gigs, after graduation, and office gigs, and freelance gigs, and gigs of self-employment — all of which I insisted on committing with esteem.  There would be esteem in serving a table full of cops at 4 a.m. who would flirt and get rowdy, like college boys in love with their substitute teacher; and one of them would always offer to give me a ride home, in his black-and-white Ford.  (Later, sometimes, they would drive down my street and wave:  Heya, pretty!  It made me feel like others feel when they come home.)

There would be esteem in finding the patience to handle a hysterical student with no knowledge of English at my daytime campus gig, when the rest of my employers just wouldn’t have the time for her fearful nonsense.  (Later, she would pass me in the cafeteria — still a child in her age, made even more helpless by her venture in a foreign country — and she would smile at me, with something that combined gratitude and a very fragile secret.)

And there would be more esteem in taking the last train out New York City after my internship at yet another editorial department where I would become adopted by a group of esteemed professionals — or the poets to whom they vowed to cater.

And then, of course, there would be my fifty future foreign lovers, teaching me their languages during our pillow talks.  But mostly, they would teach me the language of my own humanity.  And there would be plenty of esteem in learning that my compassion would never fail, no matter the messy ending to each loverly story; and no matter the suffering that came with it.

To the effortless voice of Hank, I had fallen asleep last night:  He was reading his shit at some poetry hall in San Francisco, filled to the brim with hollering humanity.  And the audience would cheer him on every time he tipped his beer bottle into his crooked, wet mouth.  He would chug it down, like a man dying of thirst, smile fleetingly and bashfully at the dividends of his compassion — and the dividends of all that suffering; and he would resume meowing out his poetry.  Sometimes, he would raise a ruckus while taunting somebody in the audience:  To him, it would be just another bar fight.  But he would always seem so much calmer, when in the midst of doing his shit.

“the price of creation

is never

too high.

the price of living

with other people

always 

is.”

And yet, he would insist on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Being too good for others — was not his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his esteemed colleagues:  “The professionals”.

And if he could, he would kiss every one of us on the mouth, the same way he kissed his women:  pornographically and with an open, wet mouth, smelling of rye.  Because no matter the price, we were his beholders AND his subjects; and with that, we granted him — his esteem.

We made his life — his tortured, used-up life worth his suffering.  And he would be one of us, becoming “the hero of [his] shit” — even when he wrote about others; when he wrote — about us.

“The Blues Is My Business — And Business Is Good.”

What’s this nauseating feeling looming in the pit of my stomach?  That time of the month?  Or maybe I should just lay off the coffee.

Back in Manhattan, I used to live on that shit.  Now, I limit myself to three cups a day.  On a good day.  Nights don’t count:  Nights keep their own count.

Sometimes, I forget to eat, too — a habit of my student days that hasn’t dissipated despite the new habit, of my non-student days, for daily running whenever my anxiety strikes.  Back in the student days, I could just call up a lover and get tangled up in that mess.  Not now though.  Now:  I just run, for miles.

And, oh, I could run for miles, right now!

But first:  Must have some coffee.

Or maybe I should lay off the coffee.  I hear it invokes anxiety.

Anxiety.  Ah, that.  It looms in the pit of my stomach, and it’s sickening:  this battle of mind over matter.

I lie down on the floor.  I should meditate, I think; or count some fucking sheep.  Whatever it takes to get rid of this anxiety thing, looming in the pit of my stomach.

And coffee:  I should definitely lay off that shit.

There is some drilling happening somewhere in close proximity; and because it’s been hot enough this week to sleep with all the windows slid wide open (come on in, thieves and ghosts!), the sound has awoken me, long before I was ready to get up and do my thing again.

What IS my thing, by the way?

Well, it starts — with making coffee.

Which I do.  I get up from the floor and stare at the drip.

“thinking, the courage it took to get out of bed each morning

to face the same things

over and over

was 

enormous.”

Bukowski.  That old, ugly dog was the bravest of them all, never whoring himself out to academia, yet always producing the words, despite being ridden with vices, not the least of each was the endless heartache of compassion.  And he knew a thing or two about clocking-in every day, at some maddening day job for a number of decades, then over his unpublished papers, at night.

Because nights keep their own count.  And days — are mostly spent with some nauseating anxiety looming in the pit of the stomach.

“and there is nothing

that will put a person

more in touch 

with the realities

than

an 8 hour job.”

But he would do that, until the day job was no longer necessary — and the papers were finally published.  And after that happened, did the nausea vamoose for good?  Poof!  Or did he continue drowning it in liquor, exhausting it on the tracks or in between the thighs of his lover-broads; then getting up for the grind all over again, in the morning?

I stare at the drip as if it’s going to give me some answers.  It reminds me of sitting by the life-support machine and staring at a sack of some gooey, transparent liquid — but not transparent enough to give me some fucking answers.

The pot’s half full.  I think I’m supposed to wait for the whole thing to finish, or it ruins it.  It interrupts the process.  Fuck it.  I pour myself a cup — I interrupt — and take it back to the floor.  I lie down.

Maybe I should count some fucking sheep, I think.  Or get me some poetry.  It has put me to sleep last night, with all the windows slid wide open.  Because the fucking sheep refused to be counted, at night.

And because nights keep their own count.

I take a sip of coffee and close my eyes.  Open them:  The drilling has started up again.  I haven’t even noticed the silence.  I put down the pen, the Bukowski.   Start listening to the drill.

It reminds me of my never made dental appointment for a check-up.  A check-up?  What the hell do I need a check-up for?  Just to see how much damage life has done to my enamel — with all that coffee — the timid receptionist called Lisa quietly explains, in so many words.  She is always kind, whimpering her messages into my answering machine like a cornered-in mouse.

Goodness.  Thank goodness — for kindness.

I should meditate, I think, after all.  I take a sip, close my eyes.

Whatever happened to that girl, I wonder, remembering a colleague gloriously succeeding somewhere in this town.  I had known her for years by now, but haven’t seen her for half of those.  We began to lose touch, two of my lovers ago, after a row of coffee dates were meant to be broken.  Eventually, the colleague and I forgot whose turn it was to make plans for the next date, to choose the next coffee shop.  It must be a self-protective thing with her, I realize.  She is successful:  It’s hard for her to relate.

Oh well, I think.  I’ll just keep in touch by overhearing some good news, on her behalf; and keep drinking my coffee alone, outside of coffee shops.

But then, I bet she too gets up to the grind, every morning.  She too must feel the looming nausea in the pit of her stomach until she forces herself to meditate.

Because after years and years of getting up to do my thing, I realize that it pretty much summons success.   

Success is simply getting up again.

But then again, there must be more to it.  Certainly, there must be more to life — than getting up.

I get up, take my coffee with me.  The drilling has stopped.  I stare outside through the windows slid wide open.

“I listen and the City of the Angels

listens:  she’s had a hard row.”

I remember:  I’ve got to start the work.  Because isn’t it what I’ve gotten up for?

I pour myself another cup.  I begin.

But what’s this nausea looming in the pit of my stomach?

“the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward

us

impossibly.”

I take another sip.  I continue.

The nausea begins to vamoose, giving room to the acidity of my coffee, incorrectly brewed; interrupted.

“Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

LA-LA started purring early this morning:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty, don’t you think?”

Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I have woken up with a headache:  This life of a freelancer is one pain in the ass.  Floating, always floating in some vague self-assurance that it is all gonna work out for the better; that everything is gonna fall into its place.  Because it always has, before; and because I’m good enough.  And even if it doesn’t work out, there are lessons to be learned, right?

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  Everything happens for a reason!” — other people tell me.

It takes very little for other people to chime-in.  Other people always seem so much smarter, or more opinionated, at least; more self-assured.  Or maybe they are just full of shit and know how to talk out of their asses.  I don’t know.  But do they know?  Do they know that they’re full of shit when they start their talkin’?  Or has their self-assuredness taken them beyond their recognition of denial — beyond their awareness of their full-of-shit-ness?

Yet, still:  It is all gonna work out for the better, I must believe that.  Because it always has, before.  And because I’m good enough.  And because (and herein lies my leprosy) I so fully, so strongly believe that it’s all in the intention:  One’s life — is all in one’s intention!  And my intentions — have always been good.

So, it is all gonna work out for the better.  It must.  It absolutely has to!  Because it always has, before — and because I had always been good enough.

And LA-LA:  She started purring early this morning, slipping through the shades of my bedroom window with that hazy sunshine that only She can manufacture.  I’ve never seen this sort of weather before, anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  There is a decisiveness in this mood of Hers:  It’s gonna be a hot day.  No room for negotiating.  You, little humans, can cough up enough smog to block some of Her rays with your fake clouds.  But as far as LA-LA is concerned:  It’s gonna be a hot day — decidedly!

And early this morning, She purred, rolling over onto Her back and playfully sharpening Her claws against my windowsill; nibbling on the chipping paint:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty.  Don’t you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I had woken up with a headache.

I had just returned to Her, the other day.  Like a thief, I slipped into the city without telling a single soul.  Because I knew that even before the pilot announced the descent into yet another decidedly hot day, I would begin to get homesick for the City I had just left behind.

I have never seen that anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  LA-LA is not really a chosen city, for many of us.  She is the one we settle for, while impatiently waiting for the fruition of our dreams.

And it’s a common pattern out here:  I have watched too many bait their dreams against this city (which is way too much pressure for any dream to withstand). When the dreams don’t happen fast enough, they fling their failures in Her face, forever blaming Her for the slowness of Her clocks; for Her lack of cooperation; for Her traffic, for Her industry, for Her lack of imagination; for Her decidedly hot days.  So, I thought I would just slip back into Her, quietly — under the sun of Her another decidedly hot day — and not voice my immediate homesickness for the City I had just left behind.

Because it takes very little for other people to chime-in:

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  It sucks!  But at least, you’ve learned a lesson!” — and off they go again, talking out of their asses so self-assuredly, I begin to wonder why they had settled here, so decidedly unhappy.

“I’ll be leaving in a month,” a neighbor had decided to confide in me during an elevator ride this morning.  I hadn’t seen him in a while — and I hadn’t really known him all that well.

So, “What the fuck is his name?!” I thought, squinting at him past my headache.  All I said this morning — was,  “Hello.”

“There is just nothing for me to do here!  No good jobs.  No good women,” he carried on; and then, he shrugged in a way that made me want to recoil inside my very spine.  There was an aggression in that shrug:  a painful flaunting of his griefs.

Goddamn it, I thought, squinting past my headache.  I was just picking up my mail accumulated during my departure and the days that it took for me to get over my homesickness for the City I had just left behind.  And all I said this morning — was “Hello.”

“So:  Where to?” I asked.  Somehow, the elevator has been programed to stop on nearly every floor; and to avoid that elevator silence, I chose to participate.  But I would chime-in very little, laconically.  Because I had woken up with a headache, and the unhappy neighbors’ griefs were a pain in the ass.

“San Diego!” he announced emphatically.  “Makes so much sense!”

In all truth, I had not a single clue as to how that other city made sense; but in juxtaposition to his griefs, his reasons to celebrate were a better cause.  So, I squinted at him, past my headache, and said:

“Well.  Yeah.  Everything happens for a reason.”

Not good enough of a response made my unhappy neighbor shrug again, this time definitely at my expense.  And I would recoil inside my very spine, but the elevator jolted and came to a stop.  First floor.  The ride’s over.  So was the confiding chat.

“Good luck,” he said to me, and started jogging across the lobby filled with that hazy sunshine that only LA-LA can manufacture.

I wasn’t sure why I needed luck, but I swear I thought I heard the city roll over onto her back again and whimper:

“Purrr-tty.  Am I purrr-tty?  What do you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

You may not work out for your every unhappy resident.  You may not live up to every dream.  But you do happen to all of us for a reason.  And somehow, everything does tend to work out.  It always does.

And everything falls into its place.

And everyone falls — into his.

But regardless:  You’re very pretty, my darlin’.  Very, very pretty.

Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.

“I’m A Hustla, Baby! I Just Want You to Know.”

How does one get back, I always wonder when on an in-bound flight to LA-LA.  How does one summon herself again — for the grind, for the hustle, for the race; for the conviction?  For the insanity of the dream?

Because most of us haven’t chosen to live here.  No!  To live here — we must.

Because this is where the grind happens, and the hustle, and the race.  This is where one comes to make a name, slowly chiseling it out of some seemingly immovable matter.  This is where one comes to knock on doors, endlessly, as if deaf or immune to rejection.  And only after enough doors have been opened, does the labyrinth of all the unpredictable passages and dark thresholds left behind begin to make sense.  And even if it doesn’t make sense, somehow one must find herself satisfied with the journey itself.

Aha:  The journey.

I hear others, many, many steps ahead of me, testify to the worth of “the journey” in their interviews as very accomplished people.

“Easy for you to say!”

Right?

No.  No, I never think that.  By choice, I am not bitter, or skeptical.  Stubbornly, I hone-in my own insecurity, so that others’ testimonies of this kind don’t set it off.  And instead:  I end taking their word for it, not because of my blind fandom for these very accomplished people; but because I myself have found the one journey I don’t mind committing despite the grind, or the hustle, or the race.

Oh, sure:  There are days when the dream stalls a little.  It sits there, rooted in nothing but my imagination.  And sometimes, I am appalled at how others don’t see it my way.

“It’s over there,” I tell them, as if pointing out a thunderstorm cloud accumulating on the other side of the mountain.  “Right over there — right above it all and ever so close!  Don’t you see?!”

Their faces tell me everything about their own “journey”.  Some get spaced out in self-defense:  They’ve seen too many madwomen in this town by now to be shocked or threatened by my insanity.  They aren’t even amused by it, as a matter of fact.  They just want some safe distance in between.  Others — the ones with ephemeral dreams of their own — try to empathize.  But they can’t!  They really can’t, for they’ve got too much of their own shit to do — and they just don’t have any time for mine.

“We should coffee sometime,” they tell me, instead.  “Talk about it more.”

And then, there are those that have promised to love me forever.  To them, my insanity is no surprise:  They worship it, instead, by association.  They are my comrades, equally insane and more fearless.  And we have been feeding off of each other’s craziness for a long, long time.   Because that’s how we get by:  We compare each other’s grind, and the hustle, and the race.  And somehow, because we are all insane enough to dream, it all stops seeming so unbearable.

But:  How does one get back, for the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I started itching yesterday afternoon, in the waiting lounge of the San Francisco International Airport.  My fellow passengers seemed either exhausted or dreamy.  Others were loud, habitually hollering at their children and spouses; yelling through their mobile devices, most likely at someone back in LA-LA and already in the midst of their grind.

A businessman in sneakers and a short-sleeved floral shirt was negotiating a sale that, according to him, all of us had to witness, while he typed furiously on his hefty looking Dell laptop.  A traveling couple of colleagues at a Samsung charging station were hollering back and forth about some training workshop that had to get done before their landing; and the tiny, beat-up Indian man caught in the crossfire of their hollers, seemed utterly defeated at the discovery of his irrelevance.

“These ones don’t need to get back,” I thought, “because they never left:  the grind, the hustle or the race.”

Suspended right above my own despair and denial, I continued to look around the lounge.  The young, investment banker type to my immediate left met my gaze with a pressed-lipped smile:  He seemed slightly surprised at his own reluctance to get back.  The sleepy hippies in laid-back but stylish clothing rested all over the floor while listening to music, jotting down their dreams or looking up at the last views of The City.  They seemed in the midst of plotting their return already.  (Or maybe they were just spacing out.  And maybe, it was all — in my own mind.)

But:  How does one get back, after the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I tell you how:  You summon yourself.

At first, you summon yourself in order to bear.  You summon your courage and your conviction, your memories of the dream that’s worth the grind, and the hustle, and the race — the dream that has brought you here, in the first place.

Sometimes, in the most remote corners of your heart’s ventricles, you must look for all the reasons to carry on.  And you glue them together — sew the damn fucking thing, if you must! — and you suspend yourself, right above your despair and denial, and you carry on.

Step two:  Summon your gratitude.  Even though most of us haven’t chosen to live here, to live here — we must.  But that living happens much easier — and with better dividends, in the end — if it’s committed with some grace.

And after all, She ain’t so bad:  This forsaken city of LA-LA, exhausted by all the grind, and the hustle, and the race for which She continuously — and quite graciously, the good girl that She is! — makes room.  Patiently, She waits for so many of us to get back, to land.  And then, She must wait for us to get over all of our other cities and loves.  She does.  Like a good girl — She does!  And She keeps taking us back, graciously.

And if you look at her with enough undivided attention, She is even quite pretty. So, I did that, yesterday:  As soon as I landed, in the midst of all that room that She has graciously made for me — and for my dream that’s worth the grind — and I drove myself out to Her shore.  Quietly suspended above my own denial, I frolicked in Her sand, and in Her waves, and in Her glorious sun; and before I knew it:

I have gotten back and I have landed.

And now:  Back to the grind.

“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.

Money Makes My World Go ‘Round

Definitions, definitions.  This year has been all about definitions.

How I’ve gone through my entire life without defining my boundaries or my personal relationships, I haven’t had time to wonder.  Because I’ve been surviving, my comrades, up until recently:  maneuvering through a hormonal cocktail of adrenaline and testosterone that came from either my obnoxious determination or fear (both of which I often covered up with sex).  But it is now that I feel clear-minded and calm enough to examine my life’s choices and figure out my future ones.  

And according to numerous testimonies:  I’m right on time.  My 20s were supposed to be chaotic.  So, okay, I could’ve settled for a calmer childhood; but that is the very tragedy of children:  They don’t have a choice.  They survive whatever circumstances are granted to them, whatever chaos they inherit.  And I could hope that they come out as strong and compassionate adults at the end of it all.  But then, I’d rather spend that same hope on a continuous prayer that every child is granted a more peaceful, innocent childhood in the first place.  I myself no longer harbor any feelings of being gipped as a child.  Instead, I chalk it up to a lesson in my own better parenting, in the future.

One of the leading topics of the year — is money.  Or rather, whether or not money defines success, and how? I find that for most of my American contemporaries, this particular definition has been long established:  They are more at ease with cash; and many make it the ultimate goal of their living.  Which must be why there is no better plot to an American life than the one in which the pursuit of making a living — is often synonymous to making a life.  (And if there were any saving grace in the current recession we’re all still surviving, it has to be the necessary — generational! — reexamination of our values.)

Many of my friends with more traditional professions invest their lives in the purpose of their jobs.  For the sake of these jobs, they work insanely long hours, taking a few sick days here and there; and they rarely take vacations.  But even then, their typically American vacations don’t last long.  They are comprised of a quick, and sometimes stressful getaway to an exotic location — for just a week; while most European families I know won’t even consider packing their suitcases unless they have a near month to spare.

As for me, it has been ingrained in me by my own socialist childhood that money is merely the means, not the end.  But then again, I’ve witnessed my parents’ poverty; and let me tell you, my comrades:  There is no more brutal dehumanization or humiliation than that.  So, as far as experiencing poverty goes (for me or my folk) — I’m done with that one!  All set, thank you very much.  Good to know; but here, I’d like to think I’ve fulfilled my life’s quota, so I’ll just to join the money race now.  Where do I start?

My bohemian friends who manage their survival via freelance gigs and an occasional income from their artistic endeavors tend to define money as energy.  Many years ago, one of my first LA-LA comrades defined it this way:

“If you use your money to help people — not start wars — money becomes the force of goodness.”

However simplified, I had to write that one down; and thank Shiva I did!  Because back then, so painful was the lack of my own money, I could only be preoccupied with investing it in my basic needs.  But these days, as I invest endless hours in the pursuit of my self-made career, I’m also in a position to start defining the purpose of my money:  current and future.

A couple of days ago, a sensitive and inspiring young creature descended upon my evening, but nearly ended-up staying the night.  I have adopted her, you see, as my soul’s guardian.  It’s a two-way exchange:  I look out for her physical wellness, while she — continuously saves my soul.  (What can I say?  It is a habit of mine:  To walk through every chapter of my life while keeping an eye on a handful of young women.  “Feminism”, “a delayed maternal instinct”, “a comfortably bisexual orientation” — call it whatever the fuck you want:  I believe in helping those who, just as I, have been robbed of a peaceful childhood.)

While she vented, albeit gracefully, about a job at which she was underpaid but also humiliated on a weekly basis, I thought:  Bingo!  My definition of financial success must include helping my friends.  But then again:  My friends are my equals (which is why my friendships have always worked out better than my romances), so I wouldn’t go calling it “help”.  Rather:  I would consider myself ever-so-successful if I were soon in a position to hire my friends.  Of course, I am very careful about entering into any business ventures with acquaintances.  But what better way to pay it forward — for any possible success or prosperity of my own — than to eliminate unnecessary suffering from the lives of those I love, by granting them better opportunities?

And then, of course, there are those beloveds whom I have adopted as my family (which includes, by the way, my own old folks).  There aren’t very many of them, but they are my very truth — the very gist of my worth; and for them, I wish my prosperity were limitless.  I would dream of no better success than to be in a position to contribute to my goddaughter’s education, for instance, or her plans to travel the world.  It would thrill me with gratitude to contribute to my best friend’s first house downpayment or to purchase arrangements for my girlfriends’ getaways while they’re the midst of their undeserved heartbreaks. To buy a luxury vehicle for my old man — just so that nerd could take it apart and put it back together — it would break my heart with humility.  Because what better manifestation of a life well-lived than its limitless generosity?

Finally:  What is the definition of money for my own existence?  Easy-peasy, comrades:  MONEY — IS FREEDOM.  Freedom to pursue my own opportunities, to fulfill my own wonderings (and to pay for my wanderings), to chase my own dreams.  Freedom to have the privilege of time.  Because not every life may have the deficit of money — but the deficit of time does appear to be universal. 

So:  “Time — is money” it is, eh?  And considering I’ve already been quite successful at defining the ways I choose to spend my time, I’m right on time in defining the spending of my money.