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

Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year

Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year

I’m not really sure what to say about the year 2016. “At least we didn’t all die in a nuclear blast” is one good thing I could mention, I guess.

On a personal level, it was a year of disappointments and setbacks, fears and frustrations, but also the year in which I sat in a taxi coming back to Chelsea from Broadway after a dinner with great talents whom I also simply admire as people, and the very dear friend and great talent sitting next to me turned and said, “You’re doing it right, you know.” I surprised myself by believing her. There are people in my life who burn very brightly, you see, and I’ve learned to let their light in, and for that I am grateful.

In light of that, in light of them, here are the six things I definitely did right this year: Continue reading “Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year”

NEW: poetry and essays archive

NEW: poetry and essays archive

Dear friends, subscribers, and people who take offense at my Guns n’ Roses references,

I wanted to point out that the new poetry and essays archive is now available on this site. It doesn’t contain all of my poetry and essays. Just the stuff that I like most.

Yeah, yeah, it’s presumptuous to self-publish poetry. With rare exceptions, it’s presumptuous to force one’s poetry on the world at all.

Of course I also sometimes think that all writing, both good and bad, is presumptuous to an extent. In in the meantime, I keep hearing from you about how much you like the stuff I publish here and have made the archive with that in mind.

By the way, a long time ago, when I was still a high school student, I noticed that the Norton Anthology of Poetry we used in English classes included the work of Bob Dylan. Norton was ahead of its time with this one. His inclusion, which forced me hard to think about the definition of poetry, in a way prepared me for his Nobel Prize (a lot of the writers I know seemed very surprised when he won, which in turn surprised me).

It also made me think about how genre and mediums and methods of delivery overlap in this world that we live in. In that sense, poetry isn’t something that has to be born on the page. Sometimes, in fact, a poem has to travel a certain path in order to be recognized as such. I think that’s curious and wonderful.

The world being what it is right now, curiosity and wonder should be multiplied. I’m trying to do my part, in whatever small, confused, confusing way that is available to me. Good luck with doing yours.

From your humble (and very cold) blog author: news, announcements, CIS-related links, and a request for tips

From your humble (and very cold) blog author: news, announcements, CIS-related links, and a request for tips

Dear friends, subscribers, and people who stop by to yell at me about my unladylike use of curse words,

Hi! Happy 1st of November! Please note, my use of glitter in the above picture is ironic.

November, of course, is not a month for irony. It’s a month for doomed love affairs that need to be conducted in flannel pajama pants, because weather.

Since I currently can’t afford flannel pajama pants (more on that in a minute), I’ve started this month off by reorganizing and updating my story archive. The latest addition to the archive is The Girl Who Went for a Ride, inspired by all of those years I spent working for The Moscow News, which has been obliterated from existence both online and in the print archives, apparently.

(When I started working at TMN in 2010, first as deputy editor, it was an editorially independent newspaper that was also state funded. I guess some people would prefer to pretend it never existed. Or maybe it’s gone due to a stupid bureaucratic error. Maybe those of who worked there in the bitter days between the announcement of our parent news agency’s liquidation and the closure of the paper will never know.)

I am also working on a new archive for my poetry, essays, and some experimental pieces I have in the pipeline. Stay tuned.

A lot of my writer and editor friends have pointed out that publishing poetry and fiction on a personal site is self-marginalizing. They are mostly correct.

I spent the last decade working as a journalist, writing poems and stories spontaneously, not having much energy or time to send them to magazines. In some ways, the blog has been a cop-out. In another way, it made my style evolve in a weird, unfashionable, but personally rewarding way. And it gained me your company in the process.

So I will continue publishing here even as I also work on creative projects elsewhere. I will be excited to share them with you when the time comes.

For those of you who recently tuned in: Since losing my old job in what became known as my Third Consecutive Professional Disaster a year ago, I was forced to reassess my priorities. I had to make more room in my life for things that I loved – whether they be riffs on Yeats or flash fiction about big  bugs and rotten teeth. I had no choice.

I hope you will read, enjoy, and donate (or tip, as some of you prefer to call it) when you can. Especially if you enjoyed the latest story. And especially this month. Here is the magic button:

*poof* *magic*

Because, did I say Novembers are for pajamas and love? For me they seem to be more about things going awry/bump in the night, and cold winds biting me in uncomfortable places. Even in Greece, where we’re living a kind of la vie de bohème right now. Don’t get me wrong, Greece is the country for that kind of life, it’s not a sleek sort of place, it has a rugged and ragged heart, people here care for each other in ways I’ve never observed elsewhere, but I do wish we resembled the bohème a little less at the moment.  Continue reading “From your humble (and very cold) blog author: news, announcements, CIS-related links, and a request for tips”