all, prose & poetry

Past the pieces

He was a blur of faces, shapes and identities, familiar and half forgotten. His hair, dirty blonde and long, like the shy drummer she met online years ago, whose friendship she lost when they tried to become something more. His eyes and nose like the older all-american boy she knew in college, who flushed his drugs down the dorm drain one day and found Jesus in Connecticut.

His way with words and music, driven but scattered, like the teacher she had an affair with, who threw himself into every creative pursuit, as if desperately trying to draw or compose or write or fuck something out of his soul, always failing to connect that art to other people.

The way he glided out of conversations and spaces, so solid and present one moment, then gone the next, like an old roommate she had a short-lived crush on, who left a tangible, painful void when he disappeared, suddenly feeling so necessary, as though gravity itself no longer worked without his presence.

His voice, calm and thoughtful, with a touch of amusement, a bit like her former boss whom she had always aspired to sound like, and saw through the facade it was for a deeper storm of playfulness and fire within.

She thought about the endless permutations of people crossing each others’ paths, their layers of familiarity and strangeness intersecting to connect for one brief moment or a lifetime. She’d met him before, or pieces of him, liking and loving and hating them, losing them, only to come across them again on another body, in another space and another time. Their kinship happened before and would happen again.

She didn’t know what the universe wanted, throwing her past back at her in this human shape of roads taken and lessons not learned. She tried to see past the pieces she knew but never fully understood, into this abstract of a man, a stranger with a life lived and his own stories to tell of women who came and went, leaving traces of themselves in everyone he would encounter since. But the pieces of others wouldn’t part, his soul hidden safely beneath and out of reach.

“Good,” she thought. “Good.”

This was for the best. She wasn’t one to romanticize the past, painting over anger and regrets with sentimental lies and a varnish of what-ifs.

She closed her eyes and shook it off, all of it, the recognition and the memories he’d brought, the magnetism and the temptation to fall in. She centered on the now, this moment of music and fog and 2 A.M. beers and friends nearby. She let the melody take her over and danced, laughing and spinning. And when she opened her eyes again, there he was, dancing like no man she’d ever met before.

all, inspiration

The language of love

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start.

Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate — but “fate” isn’t the same thing as “destiny.” Even if lovers are fated to find each other they may not end up together.

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Retrouvailles (French): The happiness of meeting again after a long time.

Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love one day.

Forelsket: (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and lost. A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.

— from The Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English by Pamela Haag

all, inspiration

The worst thing in life

“I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

— Robin Williams

all, thoughts

Different standards

Again, going too far, hoping for too much. Setting unrealistic expectations, which don’t seem unrealistic because those are the standards I set for myself. Because my instinct is to be completely open, selfless and generous with the people I chose to connect with. Because I want everything and everyone to be their best selves, and combine to form something even greater than the sum of their parts together.

But it’s unfair to expect the same from anyone else. No one else cares or gives so much. I am an anomaly, not the standard. I have to pull myself back, not push others forward. I have to curb, not strive. I have to stop, retract, and equalize.

If I want to coexist with others, I have to be less than my ideal self. Pull my head out of the stars and set my feet on the ground, dig my toes and hands into the earth until my fingernails are black and my skin is rough and smeared. I have to be the lowest common denominator.

all, thoughts

How to talk to Ukrainian-Americans in bars 

…but really, how to talk to foreign-born Americans in general.

Like a very large chunk of Eastern European immigrants in the United States, and in New York City in particular, I moved here with my family in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union fell apart and the Iron Curtain was lifted, finally allowing us to escape. I was just a kid and my “formative years” are split with a solid emphasis on the American side.

However, while I identify as a New Yorker first and foremost, having grown up and lived here for 20+ years, my developmentally-challenged vocal cords betray an unmistakable trace of a foreign accent, and my fair complexion and facial features read as some sort of European and sometimes as Middle Eastern, depending on what make-up I’m wearing and what color I’ve decided to dye my hair that month.

This puts me, and countless others Hyphenated-Americans with whom I’ve traded “growing up immigrant” war stories over the years into a kind of cultural orphanage – we’re children of neither the Old World nor the New, not really belonging to the immigrant community, and generally ostracized by it and our families for being “too Americanized” and having all the wrong values and belief systems. And yet we’re always being forcibly distanced from and reminded of our “foreignness” by those having so many of the same early life experiences as us simply because we weren’t born here like they were.

Internally, we are Westerners – we think and speak in English, and share a common cultural history with the natives, having grown up listening to, watching, reading, loving, and being influenced by the same American media. Most of our friends are American or fellow early-childhood immigrants who identify as American. We date, fall in love, and marry almost exclusively outside our birth culture. All those nice feelings of belonging in the United States, however, end swiftly upon meeting someone new in a bar or at a party. It all starts innocently enough:

—    Where are you from?
—    Brooklyn.
—    No, but where are you REALLY from?

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