In memory of Mikhail Ugarov

In memory of Mikhail Ugarov

In the museum of our bones
The keeper lights his nightly cigarette;
His doctor says he must cut back
And unlike us, he won’t mock fate.

He leads a reverent life by day
His mother’s bills are always paid
His lawn and pubic hair are trim
His children’s college funds undrained.

His ex-wife can’t remember why
She left him, and sometimes she sighs
Into the silent compliance of a whiskey glass
As crickets kick off in the grass.

The girls on Tinder like his jaw
Good breasts spill out for him from bras;
His friends are jealous, he just shrugs —
“Get what you can,” he says to them.

The wind chime on his back porch tolls
For moths who die because the light
Has told a tale of angel skin
So warm — and almost didn’t lie.

His hands are grooved and good and calm
His legs sap soil like Tolstoy’s oaks
His dogs are glassy with content
His dreams are kind to his dawns…

In the museum of our bones
The keeper hugs a tibia
Stares down the skulls up on their shelf
And maybe wishes he was someone else.

****************

For Mikhail Yuryevich Ugarov, 1956-2018
Artistic director of Teatr.doc
My friend

Photograph by filmmaker Denis Klebleev.

This blog exists because you’re good-looking and generous: No guilt-trip, just good times

I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

“People mistake vulnerability for intimacy. It’s not just annoying, it’s damaging.” — these words from my friend and Anti-Nihilist Institute co-founder Anna Lind-Guzik have been knocking around in my head lately for a reason.

Vulnerability is a useful tool of connecting to one’s audience. This isn’t just true of confessional writing. When I began to open up about leaving Russia/an abusive relationship, I did so with an explicit goal in mind: Draw attention to the problem, and show people how abuse *really* works.

It was also obviously important for me to emotionally connect with my audience and friends in general. Pain becomes more manageable when you feel less alone. All of this is normal — mundane, even.

I wasn’t surprised by the amount of odd, insensitive, prying and condescending messages I received. A lot of them came from men who have trouble processing vulnerability — in all of its forms — and prefer to think of it as mildly distasteful/not respectable.

When a certain type of man thinks of you as not worthy of respect, he may write you off, or he may also attempt to hit on you/crowd you in a demeaning way. Because a man like this reads “vulnerability” as “she has no boundaries.”

Certain women also mistake vulnerability for a lack of boundaries, but they more frequently attempt to aggressively mentor the person they deem as having a lack of boundaries. Heaps of unsolicited advice, carefully worded to remind the individual of their lower/more ignorant status in relation to the self-appointed mentor, are the norm in this situation.

While it’s not surprising, this process has nevertheless been fascinating for me to observe, due to the fact that the Anti-Nihilist Institute is an organization that promotes emotional intelligence, not only because feelings get hurt and relationships are damaged when people refuse to be smart about emotion, but because real life issues get obscured in the process.

People who misread my tweets and posts about abuse missed important points, such as: Abuse is literally everywhere. It frequently doesn’t look like abuse from the outside. A victim can and will take cute Instagram photos with her abuser, for example (in fact, the abuser will insist on them —making sure that things look “normal” is important). Cues can be subtle. Trauma bonding is real. Bonding is real in general — nobody is abusive 100% of the time. Abusers can be charming, caring, and supportive when they’re not busy abusing someone. Making excuses for what’s happening is common. Bluntly telling someone, “Just leave him, girl,” will often have the opposite effect. Leaving can be so very dangerous. Patience and understanding are key to helping someone leave.

When we talk about abuse, we don’t just risk public ridicule. We risk breaking down the wall we have built between ourselves and the people who abused us. We risk revenge. We don’t want medals, but we do want the risks we take to be worth it.

I am better, much better now, than I used to be. These last few months didn’t just teach about survival, they taught me about what great friends I have. How lucky I am to have my country to go back to — the States is still beautiful, even under a cloud of Trumpism, even with all of the crap we have to deal with back here, and we have much left to lose. And I know know much more about my own resilience and, above all else, capacity to love. No matter what.

That’s the other part about vulnerability that people frequently fail to understand. Being vulnerable is not just about opening up to other people — it’s about opening up to yourself. Knowing yourself. Knowing what you are actually capable of.

So now that abuse is on the agenda again thanks to the likes of Rob Porter, please consider it not just as a subject you cluck your tongue at before turning away. Consider it as part of a narrative that many, many people — including your friends and neighbors — are living through. Consider the reality of it and the horror of it and how that horror can, with lots of patience and hard work, be slowly overcome.

Reality is, in many ways, a story we tell ourselves. True stories go beyond respectability politics, and keeping up appearances, and even beyond bravery. True stories take their roots in the fabric of life, in the universal latticework. They reach deep inside you and yes, they can cause discomfort and hurt, especially when they are about a topic such as abuse. But there is more than wisdom on the other side of the discomfort — there is also greater peace and understanding. If you let yourself be led there, if you trust the narrative. It can be daunting — but please do try it sometime.

***

The existence of this blog is made possible by the fact that you are good-looking and generous.

No guilt-trip, just good times

My theory of seamless love

My theory of seamless love

“There’s making love, there’s sex, and then there’s fucking.” I forget who said that to me when I was young and impressionable, but it made sense at the time.

Making love was what people in “The English Patient” did. It was very serious and probably set to violins.

Sex was what people did when they had to hurry up and go to work but still felt like getting bent over the breakfast table/bending someone over a breakfast table. Or else sex was for when you’d been up all night drinking cheap beer and having the same pointless “Terminator” vs. “Terminator 2” argument (don’t doubt me, the answer is always “Terminator 2”) and needed to achieve an orgasm just so the evening wasn’t entirely a waste. It was utilitarian, though satisfying.

Fucking was pure joy. Fucking was – “We just came back from a party and I have now removed my dress in the elevator and discarded it on the landing and who gives a shit what the neighbors will think when they find it in the morning, because you need to hurry up and fuck me now.” Fucking was something to brag to friends about when they decided to give you a hard time – “Please go ahead and continue laughing at me now that I’ve managed to spill a second mimosa on my dress in the middle of what was supposed to be a classy brunch – at least I’m hungover after a wild night with someone who’s, like, seven years younger.” But it had nothing to do with love – even if it happened in the course of a committed relationship. It couldn’t really be meaningful, because meaning would weigh down the experience and hence make it impure. Continue reading “My theory of seamless love”

“Do Marines like cake?” “Does God have a butt?” Conversations with a five-year-old

“Do Marines like cake?” “Does God have a butt?” Conversations with a five-year-old

“Mommy, you’re a hippo.”
“I’m a what?! Why?!”
“You’re a mommy hippo. Because I want to be a baby hippo.”
“Oh.”
“I’m a baby hippo, but I’m also Denzel.”
“So like a baby hippo whose name is Denzel?”
“No, sometimes I’m a baby hippo, other times I’m Denzel.”
“OK.”
“Mommy, you’re also a baby strawberry.”
“WHY AM I A BABY STRAWBERRY?”
“Because it sounds nice. Daddy is a watermelon.”
“OK.”

***

“Are Marines allowed to ride in elevators by themselves?”
“Yes.”
“Do they have guns?”
“Yes.”
“And unicorns?”
“What?”
“They wear unicorns?”
“Uniforms!”
“Mommy, you’re laughing too hard. You’ll pee yourself if you don’t stop.”
“Says the kid who accuses Marines of wearing unicorns.”
“Do Marines have to eat dinner?”
“Yes.”
“What if they don’t like their dinner?”
“I’m pretty sure they just buck up and eat it anyway?”
“So they don’t cry?”
“Not over stupid stuff like dinner.”
“What do Marines cry about?”
“Serious stuff. Probably.”
“Like when people die?”
“Like when people die.”
“Does everyone die?”
“Eventually, yes.”
“Do Marines like cake?”
“Of course they do.”  Continue reading ““Do Marines like cake?” “Does God have a butt?” Conversations with a five-year-old”