Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Literary Charlatan and Degenerate"

In high school, I had a wonderful friend who spoke slowly and was beautiful, even at age 15. She told me she wanted to become Colette and I thought she meant the orphan from Les Miserables, and wondered why anyone would want to walk around with smudged cheeks singing "Castle On A Cloud."

That's Cosette.

Colette is different; and while younger-days Colette may be a little much for me, old-lady Colette is a dream: living alone, fully content to sit quietly and think deeply and move slowly. She is a woman fully engaged in the process of becoming, one who does not rely on others to tell her what her name is. Having had a few decades of debauchery under her belt (that's not the word I want to use, but what else to call a lifetime of living life to the teeth and scandalizing people everywhere you go and making memories that people who become old too soon do not make? Perhaps I'll think of the word later), she is then happy to smell the smells her garden makes and to live to her own rhythms, now more peaceful.

Reading Break of Day is like looking into what I hope my own thought patterns are like when I'm older, and it comforts me that even the author herself admits that she hasn't arrived yet. "Are you imagining, as you read me, that I'm portraying myself? Have patience: this is merely my model."

And still, she is yet another grave at Père Lachaise that we didn't have time to find.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The following things happened today: I bought a ticket to Argentina, quit my job (in three months) only to have my boss offer to save it for whenever I get back, saw the amazing Bumbershoot lineup, and had an ice cream sandwich.

Best. Day. Ever.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

this is my friend ryan.

The trajectory of our friendship has gone like this: at age 17, we were watching Being John Malkovich and I was in love with him. At 19, we became best friends ("we're just like sisters!" a drunk Ryan grinned at me that New Years, which I guess meant "siblings) as we navigated the first months of college together. It's hard not to bond when you share a small section with a painfully emo English TA who was personally living out Kafka's "The Hunger Artist." We learned firsthand that life indeed imitates art as we scribbled draft after draft of critique-- on the essay? On the TA? We lost track.

Now, Ryan goes to MIT and is technically the smartest person I know. We shared time together last week on my front porch-- tea in hand, elbows tucked between our knees as the creeping chill settled around us, recatching up and remembering all the things that hold people together even after much distance and time separates them temporarily.

Ryan and I have many memories, and the thing I love most about good friends is that they are living, breathing insurance against the forgetfullness of time. They carry pieces of our memories around for us-- the things that would slip away with our own unreliable recollections are buttressed by the minds of the people we love. And I am so thankful that little bits of my memory and heart are wandering around all over the place.

Friday, July 10, 2009

the history of beauty

I walked into the lunchroom today and immediately commented on my coworker Katie's cute heels. "I don't want to talk about it," she smirked, still reeling from a long lecture from another coworker, this one morbidly obese, on how heels are just one example of how our superficial culture tells women to present themselves. "You'll regret them later!" she declared, wagging her chubby finger toward Katie's toes.

"Maybe I will," Katie admitted. "But I sure as hell don't want to hear about it from her."


Malia, sitting cross-legged on a chaise lounge, raises her tone as she reads aloud to us from a book about the American trajectory of beauty and self-image. We hear of thinness and fatness and acne and sex and how our capricious culture defines perfection. It's a sad, helpless thing; to watch the values of a culture slip from internal qualities to almost exclusively external. "How do we stop this?" she asks. We throw around pie in the sky ideas like, "wear less makeup?" "stop looking in mirrors so much?" "read more?" but when it comes down to it, we were all forced to realize that, intentionally or not, we are interwoven into what our culture tells us to focus on. So: Are we beautiful?


9 pm. Yoga class. "Use the mirror to square your hips and balance yourself," our strawberry blonde instructor guided us. "Don't look at yourself like you normally would-- how does my hair look? Use it to force your body into a better place." Namaste, yoga. You are one of the world's best teachers of the lesson: Here Is Your Body. Here is How to Make it Work Well. Enjoy Your Strength and Guard It."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Moving On.

"I'd say 'anytime', but I know I can't follow through on a statement like that."

"I know. I know."

What stings the fingers like a closed door? What holds a more bittersweet taste on the back of the tongue than something that never happened and that wasn't supposed to happen anyway? Time marches on. "The stars, in their firmament, behave like stars." But rooms never explored contain the strange, dusty musk of a life that can only be lived once. This is both disconcerting and comforting a la vez. I am glad for only so many options. And I also grieve for being able to follow so few.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Travel Short- WC Priču

I was locked in a bathroom in Sarajevo, and my travel buddies (one of whom had given birth to me) seemed to have completely forgotten about my existence. Thanks, Mom!

I knew what was happening outside of my tile prison. Mom was lying down on the bed in our cabin-style hostel room, flipping through the thin copy of Oscar Wilde children's stories I had just finished. Lauren was outside, dealing with round two of the drunk Finn who had spotted us on the porch earlier. He watched us conduct an unproductive conversation with the sweet desk manager who spoke no English, and, buoyed by cheap beer and unwarranted confidence, he wandered his way into the hostel foyer, ready to grab our asses and fight with anyone who wanted to stop him. Earlier, we had played along lightheartedly with his inebriated attempts at flirtation. Now, worn out by exhaustion at finding decent accomodation, his middle-aged slurriness was not quite as cute.

This is when Emir entered our lives. Oh dear God. Emir. This is what he did: he woke up that morning, he put on a tight t-shirt, he re-Biced his head till it shone, he lit a cigarette and showed up in my life and dammit Emir, why must you be a chain-smoking, espresso-guzzling seductive Muslim from the former Yugoslavia while I am stuck, STUCK I tell you! in this lame life as a white girl from American suburbia? Why can't I have an addictive personality, leather pants, at least one dark secret that gives my eyes a hooded quality? Why can't I have stories of my days as a traveling busker, when I lived off of the kindness of strangers? Emir had the relaxed cool of someone who knew that, scars and all, they were the absolute shit and didn't care if you didn't agree. He also had flawed English, a confident chuckle and the ability to make me shy just by looking in my general direction.

I loved him.
Emir came blazing into the hostel and argued furiously with our Finnish suitor and quite literally tossed him out by his collar. Oh, the testosterone, how can a maid in waiting not swoon? Dusting himself off, he shuffled some papers behind the counter and explained that "he needs to stop drinking, it's not attractive. And he also needs to get the fuck out of here." I felt childish that moments before I had been amused at the old guy's antics. A more worldly woman would not have taken the time to laugh.

Earlier that day, a rickety bus took us up the side of the hill where we had heard a wonderful view of the city awaited us. An old woman, holding her groceries fresh from the market, wriggled her way around in her seat and gazed at us, telling us a story in Bosnian while smiling serenely. She paused. "Zlatkas," she grinned, gesturing to her face in the way Santa Claus did for the deaf girl in Miracle on 34th Street. "Golden Girls? Golden Child?" Our limited vocabulary clued us in to "zlat," but the rest of her meaning was lost. We got off the bus together, the old vehicle kicking up dust as it made a three point turn to head back down the hill. Last stop! And beautiful it was, yes. But also surreal to stand on an isthmus between two valleys and imagine the Serbs standing, crouching, lying in the grass around us and using their massive guns to entrap the Sarajevans. We stood alone, sharing the view with an abandoned crane ("Volim te, Tito!" declared in bold, spray painted contrast to the fading yellow of an unused machine), the city's beauty holding a bitterness that we wanted to touch gingerly.

"The tunnel? No, no. I don't want to go near the tunnel. I have seen the tunnel. I have seen plenty of the tunnel, and I never want to see it again in my life."

Emir had spoken. At this point, his word was pretty much law. We had asked him about the locations one expects to see in Sarajevo-- Olympic stadiums, the Holiday Inn (Lauren's suggestion-- the exact location in which so many journalists had been confined during the war held a strange attraction, although by the time we got there, it was hardly worth the trip, since no one was willing to acknowledge that anything of the sort had ever occurred), Baščaršija. They were all met with an aloof disdain, but at the mention of the escape tunnel, we were firmly shut down. I again felt sheepish.
They say that the escape tunnel, which was the only entrance to or exit from the city for the thousand days of Serb attack, was used by every person living in the city at one point or another. Despite the fact that, much like Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, it is a major draw for tourists in Bosnia, Emir saw it as dragging out the past, not to mention a little disrespectful to treat what once was a lifeline as entertainment for an afternoon. Isn't it too soon to go near a place that holds such bone-deep pain for so many?
Maybe. But if no one sees the tunnels and the houses and the mortar shells that represent what man can do to each other, then it will keep happening.
I had a lot of time to think about this before Emir rescued me from the bathroom with a laugh. Yes, I think I'm in love.
(July 2007)