Matilda’s New Digs: An October Ghost Story

Matilda’s New Digs: An October Ghost Story

“Don’t be fooled by new houses. They sit on old ground.” Matilda had no idea who had dropped the note in her mailbox, and she didn’t care to find out. There was too much unpacking to be done.

There were boxes for the upstairs, boxes for the downstairs, and boxes that were meant to go straight into the basement. It was her mother’s things, mostly, that went into exile down there — vintage lace dresses, crystal earrings, leather-bound collections of Shakespeare and Ibsen, things Matilda couldn’t bear to interact with, but didn’t have the heart to cast out. Matilda’s mother had been a stage actress with a considerable following and had died young. At the time, it struck Matilda as just the kind of thing her mother would do — slip away early, with no warning, just as she used to do at theater parties, heels pounding sidewalk before anyone had the chance to say a real goodbye. Over the years, the loss had done the opposite of what it was supposed to do; the wound grew deeper, echoing with old stories, jokes, her mother’s garrulous, self-assured laugh. How could someone who had been so alive be so very dead?

Matilda had a practical job and what she liked to think of as an uncomplicated life. Not for her were tumultuous affairs with directors, children by different, loutishly handsome fathers, champagne in the morning, tussles with the press. Matilda didn’t think of herself as boring. She’d had plenty of men, and women, for that matter, she just “wasn’t interested in drama,” as she put it in her online dating profiles. Was she betraying her mother’s legacy? Maybe.

After the moving men had gone, an inky twilight settled over the new house with its granite countertops and gleaming, virginal floors. Matilda opened up a bottle of wine. The pinot grigio tasted tingly, like she felt. A glass and a half in, there was a knock on the door.

Continue reading “Matilda’s New Digs: An October Ghost Story”

Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

This post of on combining art and motherhood made the rounds this past winter. There were a lot of responses, public and private. Two of the more recent responses made me feel like revisiting the issue:

1. The Divided Heart is a more honest exploration of what it’s like to be a mother and an artist. I’m sorry, but I think you are over-compensating and it shows. For decades, women have been quite open about how combining great art and motherhood is almost always an impossibility. One blog post on the matter from someone who sold one play is not going to convince society.

2. All due respect, Natalie [sic], but people like you lure promising artists towards breeding, and the results are almost always disastrous. I wonder if you’ll change your mind when your kid is on the therapist’s couch, discussing the ways in which mum neglected him so she could make her Art, and he almost certainly will be.

So to address all that:

Who the hell are you to argue that women can be both mothers and great artists? You’re nobody! But it’s not about me.

The idea that you can’t reconcile being a mother with being great artist is, today, a peculiarly Western concept. In many other parts of the world, women just get on with it.

One of Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova, was a mother. Nobody goes around wringing their hands on her behalf. One of Russia’s greatest painters, Zinaida Serebriakova, was a mother – and, once again, people really didn’t make a big deal out of it. Continue reading “Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist””

Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives

Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives

If you are interested in the (somewhat frozen) conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine, you should hop on down to Kyiv’s brand new PostPlayTheater and check out the documentary play “Rebels” (“Ополченцi” in Ukrainian. The word itself usually has a slightly different meaning in English, but “rebel” is one of the standard terms for the separatists out east, so I am using it for now).

Rebels is the story of one man, recorded on a dictaphone by some kiosks on a late night in central Kyiv. The man used to be a part of the Russia-backed uprising in Donetsk, a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced over two million people.  Continue reading “Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives”

On the work of Kate Atkinson

On the work of Kate Atkinson

When I was fourteen, I bought a copy of “Human Croquet” after reading about it in a magazine for girls (unexpected choice by the editor, I’ve come to realize). I had the original receipt for a while and jotted down the exact time, down to the minute, and place where the book was purchased.

I came back to that inscription in my senior year at Duke, when I was writing my (let’s face it, terrible) honors thesis on “Human Croquet.”

“Acquired at 7:33 p.m., May 17, 1998, Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Charlotte, NC.”

There wasn’t much I understood at twenty, but I did understand why I wrote down the contents of the receipt. I was recording a life-changing moment. I met Michael Cunningham once when he came to give a talk at Duke, and he jovially discussed having his life upended by Virginia Woolf, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I wasn’t weird. Kate Atkinson just happened to split my particular atom.

Her work has changed over the years, gone both wide and deep, but some familiar themes have circled back this year: the handsome RAF pilot, the complete disaster of men and women, the cruel and lovely ambivalence of nature, the question of death and stepping sideways out of time, the tedium of children and how there’s nothing more important, Englishness (and how observing it changes it), the strange way men separate passion and love (like unspooling threads), the importance of getting on with it even when you’d rather lie down and melt back into the landscape again, lying down and melting into the landscape at a later date (though perhaps having helped someone in a way, so as to not have your existence be entirely without point), the fact that we are all so fragile as to almost be fiction.  Continue reading “On the work of Kate Atkinson”

Giant hogweeds on the rampage, that one rape movie you should watch (if you can stomach it), and the general state of Russia’s film industry

I have been writing for your benefit, dear reader. This is for you – all for you.

First of all, stay away from the freaky plants that look like Queen Anne’s lace that had been watered with bovine growth hormone (and find out what they have to do with the worst dictator in Russian history).

Second of all, here is a review of “Twilight Portrait.” No, it has nothing to do with sexy vampires who enjoy stalking underage girls. Instead, it’s probably one of the most well-made films to have come out of Russia in recent years. It’s also not the kind of movie you watch if you don’t think you can handle some pretty horrific depictions of rape.

And speaking of rape and such – here is my take on why Russian dramas are not doing too well at home. I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors, including the general state of the market, and I really hate the simplistic explanations of the cultural elite that amount to, “Well, people are just stupid nowadays, and can’t appreciate good cinema.” Not quite.