Tag Archives: Zadie Smith

“It’s in the reach of my arms / The span of my hips / The stride of my step / The curl of my lips…”

I had a dream last night:  of walking into a room full of beautiful women.

Some of them, I’ve known for years; a few of them for long enough to have forgotten their faces.  Some of the other faces could’ve belonged to my future, perhaps.

When I entered through the door with chipping white paint — a door that was more obedient to the pull of gravity than that of its rusty hinges — every woman looked up at me:  A stunning constellation of loving, familiar eyes sprawled before me; each pair of eyes — with its own story of similar pathos that have led us all to the common denominator of womanhood.

A tearful redhead sat at the teacher’s desk, up front.  I assumed she was leading the classroom.  Lines of poetry were written on a blackboard behind her.

“I’d seen her somewhere,” I thought in my sleep.

Perhaps, she borrowed her details from my Russian Lit. professor back in the old country.  That one was a tall, mighty blonde that might have stepped off the pages of Nekrasov’s poetry.  Or:  She could’ve been one of those pre-Napoleon aristocrats, attending a ball in St. Petersburg, while wrapped in the fur of a red fox and emeralds to accentuate her gorgeous green eyes.

Her name was Tatiana.  She had a middle name, of course; but in a radical fashion, she demanded we didn’t use it.

“By god, I’m only a few years older than you all!” she’d correct some brown noser testing the air, in class.

True, we were all quite young then, and typically confused.  But we had grounds for it though:  Our country was falling apart at the seams.

One morning, Tatiana walked into my first class of the day in a solemn mood.  Her magnificent hair of a Russian blond beauty was pulled back into a messy bun; and by her eyes, we could tell that she either hadn’t slept or had been crying all morning.  Or both.

It was common for Tatiana to bring up politics in class.  After all, she belonged to our generation:  of curious and passionate, and justifiably confused.  But that morning, she would remain silent, stunning all of us with the expectations of the worst.  And she would stare out of the window while burying her chin into the cream-colored crocheted shawl wrapped around her magnificent, mighty shoulders.

Inspired by a thought, every once in a while, she would look at us and inhale, as if grasping enough air to deliver the news.  Breathlessly, we watched her.

Caution:  Courage at work.  

But she would lose the train of thought, tear up again and bury her face in the shawl.  After the longest minutes of our assuming the worst, Tatiana left the classroom; and none of us would see her again.

But I would — in my last night’s dream, about walking into a room full of beautiful women.

There were a few from my college years:  Of various heritages, they were American-born, opinionated and seemingly fearless:  The tall one, with an Irish brogue, had been known to lead her life along a courageous path of rebelling against the confines of tradition. The quiet brunette, cradling her little girl in the corner — under a tent of her long East Indian hair — had been burdened with the most gentle of hearts I had ever loved.  And I had loved her the most — and oh, for so very long! And I had known the brown, graceful one with the pixie haircut very little back then.

A handful of others came along after my most innocent years of womanhood.

The one who stood up to applaud me had recently left for her homeland:  She had always been luminous and proud, in the way of an African queen.  She wore a heavy necklace when she left for her odyssey:  something borrowed from the neck of Nefertiti.  And she wore that again, in my dream.

The poetess who had guided me toward a path of quiet victory had borrowed a headdress from my favorite writer of Caribbean descent.  And she walked to the front of the room to introduce me.  

I struggled with the door for a moment, then pushed it with my hip. There is nothing in the world that won’t obey a woman’s hip!  On it, we bounce our children, or carry the weight of our unhappy burdens.  With it, we can dislodge any jam in our way; make a man lose his sleep over it, or find his rest — in its soft curvature.

“Well…  That’s been conquered,” I said to the women, once I turned around.  They laughed:  A sound that may have made me smile in my sleep.

While the laughter subsided, I studied the floor under my feet:

There was none.  Just dirt, covered with loose planks of wood; and as I made my way across them, the boards chomped and sank into the wetness.  I couldn’t tell where exactly we had gathered that day:  Which of our old countries had granted us refuge.  But this morning, I had slept in, for a change, missing the sound of my alarm clock and the call of my obligations. And I would have much rather remained dreaming.

“Not Bad, Huh? For Some Immigrants?”

“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.” —

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

A girl with an unused-up face was working at the counter of Rite-Aid.  She seemed to be in training, still; wearing that horrid polyester polo shirt made in China.  It was too large on her, too loose; un-pretty, untucked — and without a name tag.

“You’re fine for today,” her manager must’ve told her in the morning, when he completed her “uniform check”.  “But after the training is over, you must remember to wear it, everyday.”

The fucking name tag!  That’s the rule.  There are always rules, in jobs like this.

I often squint at those tiny plaques that sadly dangle by their pins on chests of any customer service personnel.  I try to decipher them, figuring out the pronunciation; and I try to guess the origin.  Sometimes, the names are easy:  Maria, Sally, Mark, AJ.  The names longer than three syllables are always harder — but they make for a perfect conversation piece.  But in cases like that, the name bearer — the name tag wearer — is often sick of being asked about it.

There was this one time, though, a Nigerian man began to tell me his.  All I could hear were endless consonants and glottal stops.  He assumed I was an American. He was getting a kick out of it, making a scene.  Immediately, I felt ignorant and humiliated.  Because I thought I had at least some clue — more clue than most — about what it had to take for him to get here.

So often I stand at a counter — or behind a plastic window — and I desperately calculate the timing of thanking these people by their names; as if that would make the insignificant exchange of ours more meaningful.  No.  I don’t expect to make up for the misery of all the corporate routines they must obey.

And I am sure they still go home in the evenings, complaining about their managers, who nag them about silly things like schedules, lunch breaks “by law” — and those fucking name tags.

“Why can’t he just leave me alone?!” they ask the rhetorical question of their equally exhausted spouses, at dinner, their words belonging to forsaken prayers.  They get drowned out by the hyped-up realities happening on the television screen.  And in the morning, they’ve gotta do the whole thing all over again.  And if they aren’t running late, they’ve gotta remember:  to grab the fucking name tag.

Still, I prefer to say these names out loud.  No, I don’t expect to please.  And I don’t expect to make up for the misery of all the corporate routines they must obey.  I just want a little bit more humanity, in places like this.  In jobs like this.

There was already plenty of sadness in the fluorescent lights buzzing above the unused-up face of the girl working at the counter of Rite-Aid.

“Why must they be running these things right now?” I thought, noticing that despite the blazing sun outside, the rows of lights remained lit.  Lit and buzzing.

And yet underneath their cold rays whose pulse can send an epileptic into an episode, this girl appeared very pretty.  She had long spiral curls on each side of her brown face.  And because she wore not a hint of make-up, I quickly imagined her on some simple, yet still exotic shore, drinking milk out of a coconut cracked open with a machete.

I wondered if she was a student of some sort, at a community college, working this job “just until…”  Or if she was a daughter of an immigrant, meant to be grateful by that very definition — for the privilege of her minimum wage and health benefits.  And if she goes home, exhausted and confused:

What exactly is the meaning of this daily drudgery?  And when, exactly, does it end? 

And then, there was her face.  It was unused-up.  It had no traces of bitterness, no histories of lovers’ betrayal or disappointment.  Other humans hadn’t gotten to her yet.  And she smiled a little while holding a pack of cigarettes, immediately humiliated, waiting for her trainer to find the time to explain the exact procedure of selling those things.  She waited, while her customer — a strange, muttering woman — scoffed and squinted her eyes at the name tag of the manager standing nearby.  Watching.  Why must we get off — on other people’s humiliation?

It would take a few beats for the girl to settle down.  The scoffing customer would storm out, muttering about her own miseries.  The trainer would return to his routine, indifferently.  The manager could be traced by the jingle of his keys, as he walked away into his hideout, behind the swinging door.  (At least, he had a space of his own.)  But the girl would have to regroup, in front of us, and wait for the awkwardness of the moment to pass.

“I think she’s open,” an old man behind me was breathing down my neck.

Yet, I insisted on holding my spot until I was called over.  The girl with an unused-up face deserved her dignity.

And dignity — takes time. And space.

“I can help the next customer in line,” she said.  Her voice was light, resonant.  It better belonged in a choir of St. Patrick Cathedral.

I walked over:

“Hello, love.”

She wasn’t wearing a name tag, you see:  that fucking name tag I used to have to wear myself, at my very first jobs as an immigrant in America.  But I refused to treat her good, yet unused-up face as nameless.

So, she would be Love — the bearer of my motha’s name — at least for a few seconds that day, at Rite-Aid.  She deserved a name; and if not love — she deserved some dignity.

And dignity — takes compassion.

And space.

“‘Cause I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl!”

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

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

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

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

“Oh, you mean:  this old thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandalous!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.”

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

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

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

Of life.

Of light and lightness.

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

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

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

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

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

“This one’s on the house…”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve Been Tryin’ to Get Down — to the Heart of the Matter”

“Obscurely disappointed, as we sometimes are when the things we profess to dislike don’t happen, she looked up abruptly and smiled at him.” 

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

 

Closure.  What a strange, difficult little thing it is!  It takes a lot of sitting around.  It asks for a lot of forgiveness.  It eats patience for breakfast, drinks up solitude at night.  But mainly:  It takes a lot of sitting around.

Just as I am doing right now, while wearing a man’s dress shirt that once belonged to a man to whom I once belonged.  The day is promising to be loaded, with sunshine and work, and the laughter of friends whose love for me has been tested by time and loss, and by perseverance.  The weekend is slow to start; but I am learning to make a daily habit out of it — forgiveness! — like brushing my teeth, then yellowing them with hard coffee, straight up.  So, I’m willing to sit here — alone, for as long as it takes — until the daily dose of forgiveness finally enters into my bloodstream and gets absorbed by every rejuvenating cell in my body.  And then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here!  Surely.

In this space — a vacuum of patience — I witness the little creatures of my habitual emotions.  While I sit still — alone, for as long as it takes — they scramble all over my spartan joint, and climb onto a sturdy axis of an abandoned vintage carousel, then disburse again; and they make a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.  No one else has been making a use of this carousel for a while.  It’s been replaced by easier, more thrilling entertainment.  So, its worn-out horses and yawning lions and tamed dragons are no longer ridden by children with vivid imaginations.  Their paint is now chipped away by time and weather, not by the tiny fingers of little heros awaited by their worried mothers on land.  So scary, so powerful they used to be — these horses and lions and dragons — but now, they are merely complacent and fragile in their aging.  Disheartening.  The theme park attendant has dosed off in a glass cubicle of the carousel’s control panel:  Its old tune has been his lullaby for years.  Little does he know that this simple ride is now being conquered by the creatures of my habitual emotions.

And so I watch them pass:  these feelings that once used to seem so big.  Now, they’re just silly little hooligans, making a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.

Here comes Anger:  a hotblooded little rascal with a dire need for a haircut of his sun-kissed, messy, surfer-boy curls.  He shoots me an askance glance of my future, impatient son, irritated by my habit for physical affection in public, yet who seeks it at night, in the midst of all the nightmares he’s inherited from his mother.  So many times, he has tempted me to follow him onto these rides, but somewhere halfway through, he gets serious and distracted again; and begins pulling away from my routine roughing caress of his head.  So now, I just sit still instead, for as long as it takes.

Denial was born a pretty girl.  A very pretty girl!  And as all very pretty girls, she’s gotten quickly spoilt and moody on me.  She has learned to get her way, never working harder at it than fluttering of her glorious eyelashes; but oh how disappointed gets her little face when I happen to not comply!  (I’m still the grown-up around here, after all; and I know what’s good for her!)  So, she gets mercurial on me, pulls away and pretends that to change a course of action — was her idea in the first place.  I don’t surrender to her mood swings.  I’ve learned not to.  And when she comes back around the next time and flutters those glorious eyelashes at me again, gently, I shoo her away — and I wave a pretend goodbye.

Here comes Fear, riding in on a mythical creature that even I, with my worship of myths, cannot identify.  Fear is an orphan.  Fear is messy.  Fear adores chaos.  I used to have a lover who reminded me of him:  Very charming to make-up for the giant chip on his shoulder, he could juggle his manipulations in his sleep.  And it was hard to fall in love with someone like that, but even harder to fall out of it (because I always adopt my lovers no matter how much chaos they bring, on their move-in date).  So, as I watch Fear’s indifferent face pass me again and again, I wonder:

“What compassion must it take for you to finally settle down?  Or must you remain unattached and unpredictable; disarmingly charming when seeking shelter but brutally messy upon your every departure?”

Fear is an orphan.  Fear adores chaos.  But he ain’t welcome to come around here any more!

They all used to seem so big, these creatures of my habitual emotions.  But now, they’re just silly little hooligans, on this sad carousel with lullabies instead of jungles, who make a sport out of riding past me, while making funny faces.  They are sort of my children, natural and adopted; and I have always had plenty of love to give them.  But as all parents who get better with time, I too have learned the psychology of my children.  And although my love has never lost its unconditional clause — it has gotten a lot more patient.

So, as I sit here — alone, in the vacuum of my patience, for as long as it takes — I can already feel the calmness of forgiveness entering my bloodstream.  So then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here.

Surely.

“Do Your Thing — Like There Ain’t Nothin’ To It!”

“How do you never run out of things to say?”

My comrades ask me that, quite a lot, these days; and most of the time, they follow-up with their ready theories:

“You’re just so disciplined!”

“Maybe this means you’ve found your calling.”

“But you’ve never done anything half-assed-ly!”

And then, the voice of my most beloved soul that has witnessed my hustle from the East Coast, for over a decade, resonated on the phone last night:

V!  You’ve never procrastinated!  Not even in college.”

Damn it!  Well, today, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating, as if I have nothing to say indeed.

It’s an experiment that rings true considering my feet are so swollen from my weekend’s work, they’d look better on a cartoon character (or on the Michelin Man, if he were drawn barefooted).  For the last few morns, it’s been a slow start.  My sleep has been dreamless, so I find no material there.  And once awoken, I’ve been opening my shades to cloudless, clear skies outside.  So, even the weather can’t justify my proneness to heavy pontification today:  Oh, it’s summer alright!  No doubt about it.

As for the little break-up related chaoses of the last two months, they have quietly slipped out.  Finally.  Yes, there had to be a lot of work — and so much agony! — with all that self-searching in the name of growth, and lessons, and my future, better relationship.  (Lord, Shiva!  It was starting to feel so excessive.)  The Zen peeps say all human misery originates from a refusal to recognize the impermanence of things — a refusal to surrender, to let go. 

And if it weren’t for the previous break-up related chaoses, I could’ve carried on like this for years:  with this love, coming and leaving the affair, then cradling my misery as if it were my lovechild.  Holding on.  Refusing to let go.  But no!  Not this time around.  Yes, it took me a while to acknowledge my partner’s decision to quit; but once I heard it:  Oh, it was over alright!  No doubt about it.  (But then again, I hear I’ve never done anything half-assed-ly; and that must include my new ability to let go.  To surrender.)

So, you see:  I have no readily available material this morn.  So, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating!

Here comes — my morning coffee!  It’s the first thing I’ve done every day of my adult life:  Turn on whatever device is going to deliver my wake-up elixir.  It could be preceded by the whistling of a tea kettle or the laboriously percolating of my rusty drip machine; but the smell that follows is enough make me want to start.  Start what?  ANYTHING.

So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out of things to say:  Because despite the losses and the regrets, the suffering and the unpredictable strife ahead — I adore the very act of living? Because I’m not done yet, with any of it:  art, craft; love, worship, discovery; friendship, camaraderie, motherhood?  And because it is a quality of my own motha’s spirit:  to be in awe with every activity, however new or habitual?

Armed with my chipped Starbucks cup containing about a liter of caffeine, I proceed to my laptop.  First stop:  The New York Times.  I roam, I skim through, click away.  I proceed to the NY Region section, linger on this summer’s production of Shakespeare in the Park.  I can already hear it:  The sounds of that City poorly absorbed by the man-made strip of nature running through its middle.  I surrender to the feeling of immediate gratitude:  for having lived in so many places; for having lived so much and so well.  So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out things to say?

The side column is flooded with editorials on this weekend’s Gay Pride Parade.  The photographs of those well lived-in faces — bohemians and lovers, subversives and revolutionaries, and local leaders — they all seem so different this time.  Yes, there is still joy and flamboyancy, and utter emotional freedom.  But I cannot ignore those who are tearful or hysterically relieved.  I roam through the pictures of the same sex couples, some with their children, all looking like they’ve all suddenly learned to let go.  Yep, New York has done it again:  It stepped up to the plate and despite its relatively small territory, it gave its people enough room for their dignity.  Oh, it’s New York alright!  No doubt about it.

I pour myself the second liter of coffee and proceed to my books, spread all over my joint and in different stages of being read, yet equally marked-up.  Here is Junot Diaz, both of his bestsellers on my desk.  Like me, he is bi-cultural; speaks fluently in two languages — and irony.  He is badass, you can tell; has lived a lot, and well; learned some serious letting go.  Zadie is right underneath him, but oh so equal.  She is funny and brown, always good to flip through.  A master of dialects, she is so far ahead of me — so worthy of my worship!  But in our empathy, we are equal.  In my bedroom, I find my favorite Manhattanite, Tony Kushner, and his shit never gets old.  Or maybe, I’m in the mood for some melancholy:  I wander into the living-room and find some Lorrie Moore, on the floor, near the balcony.  I park my coffee, get lost.

And is that it then:  Is that why I never run out things to say?  Because there is still too much to read, to learn; because others have not procrastinated from speaking?  They speak in different voices — some in awe, others in surrender — and in that likeness and difference, I can always find inspiration. 

Or is it because we are all so equal, in our love for the human race?  Because we dwell in the very act of living — anti-procrastinating — none of us running out of things to say? 

Still, you’ve just watched me doing some serious procrastinating.  I did that!  And how did I do?

Hands On! Balls — Out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Let me do that one again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I say:

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

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

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

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

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

Let me do that one again:

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

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

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.

Till Death Do Us Part — or NOT

Learned something new last night, loves…

(Actually, considering the newsworthiness of this week was off the hook, I learned quite a lot, via my Week in Review by Twitter.  Every 140-word op-ed came with a new ache of discomfort and my stubborn choice of silence.  No commentary, thank you.  I’ll take the fifth.  Yep:  Grace was an antsy lil’ thing last night, so I can’t say I was restful.)

Every time I crave a better piece of writing — or am about to lose all hope for the mankind — I reach for Junot Diaz.  Or Zadie Smith.  Or Comrade Nabokov.  But during the last hours of my seventh day:  Esquire it was.  I balanced the pages on my naked skin, watching them mark me with black ink.  (Written on the Body. Forgot about that one.)  Half-way in a out of sleep, I waited for the voices in my head to hush down (fucking Twitter, with its schizophrenia galore!); when out came a term I’ve never heard before:  No Fault Divorce.

Say whaaat?!  How come I never got me one of those?

For a second, I forgot which publication was marring my skin with its biodegradable colors (because as you may have read or heard, my darlings, it’s been a book on the topic of Zen this entire week).  I forced myself back to reality, for moment.  Yep:  still Esquire.  My Bible to Mankind.

“Damn it,” I thought.  “No fucking way I’ll be able to go to sleep now!”

Sure enough, the voices in my head went up a hundred decibels, like a choir of Cleopatra’s eunuchs.  Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda started bouncing in my frontal lobe, like steel bullets inside a pinball machine.  Before being tempted to reach for a shot of NyQuil, I leapt out of bed and went digging for my divorce settlement — a document I make no habit of viewing, ever! — issued by some New York Honorable So-‘n’-So who has never met me, let alone heard my side of the story.  Nope:  In my case, my darlings, my fucking story was retold by some attorney with a Chinese name, hired by my ex-husband, the plaintiff:

“The defendant has waived HER right to answer or respond.” 

(Again:  I took the fifth.)

And considering I was on the opposite coast of the country, that’s one way to put it.

There’s no way the Honorable So-’n’-So could’ve known that I was cradling myself to some state of forgiveness, for a duration of a single climate season, since the tragic separation from a friend.  ‘Cause that’s exactly what my hubs was to me — a friend, first and foremost.  Because I was planning to do this “till death do us part”, not the Honorable So-’n’-So “do us part”; and from my idea of marriage, you better be friends if you want to survive until there is no more sex to keep the two of you together.

But it didn’t work out for us that way.  Shit went wrong.  Things fell apart.  And by mutual at the time admission, we “couldn’t do it anymore”.

Despite suffering from a temporary amnesia toward my former self, I had enough presence of mind to recognize what was best for me, at the moment:  to run.  The same way I had fled from the broken marriage of my parents a decade ago (fucking irony, eh?), I took myself across several time zones; because the temptation for reunions with the hubs (the friend and plaintiff) — out of fear or stubbornness or love — would’ve been too great to resist.

But before I departed, we agreed that it was due to no particular one’s fault.  Instead, it was a hundred of little faults, from both of us.  Endless little fights — about my silly habits and his lovable ones; fights that were thrilling in the beginning, because they lead to moments of clarity — and sex; fights that would eventually look comedic; and we would crack each other up, making the hubs’ single dimple appear on his right cheek while I shook my mane at just how I much I adored that fucking thing.  But neither of us could remember when those fights flipped.  Before we knew it, they became little barnacles of cancer which would then be the eventual end of us.  Those fights belonged to a different category:  No longer little catharses, they became struggles for power; and that power had nothing to do with forgiveness but everything — with being right.

Last night’s Esquire piece said it best:

“Fighting matters to a marriage because what matters most to a marriage is forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t come for free.  You have to fight for it.”  

Truth be told, my fellow broken-hearted, I didn’t want to be right.  Most of the time, I didn’t want to have the last word either, because I didn’t even know what that last word would be.  (It’s a foreigner thing, or a writerly thing:  I need time to formulate my words — in order to be poignant, or perfectly understood, or “brilliant”.)  So:  I threw in the towel.  Because I feared losing a friend, first and foremost.  Because I knew that despite the resilience of one’s forgiveness, there indeed exists a point of no return.  (I had seen happen, a decade ago, with my parents.  Fucking irony, eh?)  Because secretly I knew that time and space — and in my case, several timezones of space — would heal.

I left.  Gypsy — out.

By leaving I admitted my fault, my comrades.  I chose to find someone to blame (which is how our fights got cancerous, remember?) — so, I blamed myself.  It was easier that way.  I had to lose enough to learn the one prerequisite to forgiveness — remembering THAT which is worth fighting for, or THAT worth walking away from; yet still, I had to leave enough behind TO forgive.  Which is why the settlement to my divorce had to be called Abandonment — another little fault in a sum of all others.  My price of forgiveness; and my own asking price — for keeping a friend, first and foremost.

From the Taint of Mother Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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