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”

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”

Laura Palmer and the end of the world: news of note from me

Laura Palmer and the end of the world: news of note from me

It’s Independence Day, and I am sad to be so far away from home. Instead of whining about it, though, I’d like to present you with a round-up of the interesting things I’ve done lately and which you might have missed (especially if you don’t follow my Twitter):

For example, I recently looked at the legacy of Twin Peaks in the post-Soviet world (did you know? The original show had a cult following there in the 1990s) and discussed it with Marco Werman on PRI’s The World.

I have to add that I feel like we’re really lucky that David Lynch was not interested in pandering to nostalgia when he set out to make Twin Peaks: The Return. Will hopefully be able to devote more writing to that this summer – particularly since for years I’ve been able to observe how turning nostalgia into yet another natural resource has made much of mainstream Russian culture into something sadly provincial.

Speaking of non-provincial Russian culture, however, I have also written about Andrei Zvyagintsev’s new film, Loveless, which recently premiered in Cannes. Loveless is fantastic and, I think, ultimately a much angrier movie than Zvyagintsev’s Oscar-nominated Leviathan. It’s the anger that appeals to me greatly.

Of course, my REAL big news is that The Fox Head Barks Facing Seaward, my newest short story, was published in Strange Horizons last month. I’ve had a love affair with Strange Horizons since college, and I’m really glad that it was this story in particular that has found a home there. Fox Head works as a kind of protracted echo of this earlier story, but it’s also its own thing.

Over at the Anti-Nihilist Institute, I’ve had some strong words for fake Russia experts. And the Woke Vets series has continued, with me interviewing Tim Hardin, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan (where he served as a USASOC soldier), on everything from civilian casualties to the importance of free public education.

In Politico, I discussed the recent French election in light of Russian meddling (would not have personally gone with that headline either, but I guess winning is in the eye of the beholder). I think this piece of mine on BNE actually nicely balances out the Politico one – by pointing out that Putin is not some superhuman Bond villain (though he’d like you to believe that).

Finally, I was recently on the Power Vertical with Brian Whitmore and Mark Galeotti. We started out discussing the dueling messages of the Kremlin and the Russian opposition, and wound up discussing Pornhub and the importance of political sex appeal, which is what happens when you have me on your podcast.

Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night

Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night

Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night, the stores have reverted to their true selves – which is to say that they are mirages now again, fragile beneath the great emptiness yawning over the streets, insides scooped out of illusion. Bars disgorge the happy and drunk and the unhappy and drunk and those who can’t make up their minds. I can’t see the stars, but the sky is dark with the knowledge of them.

You’re walking me home and I’m thinking that love doesn’t know when to quit. Love is not people. People quit every time. People roll their suitcases down the sidewalk and are swallowed up by “around the corner,” by “in the distance,” not to mention “time.” People close doors behind them. People fly in airplanes, telling the flight attendant that they want another little bottle of bad red wine, instead of telling her the truth, which is that the world is splitting wide open like a wound on either side of the airplane, the wings are scraping tissue and drawing blood, and does she know that you can quit but love doesn’t come with that option.

My feet hurt. The reality of the body has a way of intruding on historic occasions. My feet hurt but I’m telling them to suck it up. Don’t fail me now, feet. Don’t make me get into a cab.

The buildings here are superimposed on reality, on immigrants, the Lenape, settlers, glaciers, Pangea, broken before it was broken, like everything that lives in the world. I like to think that you and I will also haunt these streets, because I’m vain, and because of the way you look right now, like the light isn’t falling on you as much as it is dancing around you, like it knows things about you that I thought I knew alone. Continue reading “Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night”