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

Life advice for when the mind is full of scorpions

Life advice for when the mind is full of scorpions

When life has gotten strange, and it’s more than you can handle, the absolute worst thing you can do to yourself is go, “Well, of course. Of course this would happen. Because this always happens to ME.”

This locks you deeper into the general awfulness. This *cements* the awful. And makes you more likely to subconsciously choose the paths that will lead you to more awful in the future.

What happens is only part of the general plot. The other part is how you react. Such an obvious point, but so easy to miss when you’re under heaps of stress.

Many years ago, I was in a stressful situation. I was worried about events not under my control. I couldn’t sleep. I had also recently read Macbeth, and set about re-reading the play, convinced that the not sleeping thing was not accidental. Macbeth shall sleep no more, etc.

I hadn’t stabbed a sleeping guest to death in cold blood, nor executed a potential political rival’s family and servants, but those were details. Continue reading “Life advice for when the mind is full of scorpions”

Good question alert: Can you be a “serious writer” while also just being yourself?

Good question alert: Can you be a “serious writer” while also just being yourself?

The daughter of a friend is taking a summer journalism course, and one of her assignments was to interview “a journalist with international experience” about their “career choices and future goals.”

One of the questions she just sent me was so excellent that I am reprinting it, alongside my answer, below (with permission):

Q: Your byline has been seen in many internationally significant publications and you regularly comment on current events. Today I read your comments to Yahoo Sports about Russia’s doping scandal. Also today I opened your blog and read a song about “shrieking demon heads” that you wrote. Is there a contradiction between your professional persona and your artist persona? Has it affected your work? What would you say to someone who wanted to follow your example?

A: What a great question. I will be honest, I think I would have had more professional success as a journalist if I played it straight – as in not had a blog that featured songs about demon heads, nor posed for artists in my spare time, nor written plays about sunken ships and haunted bureaucrats, and so on.

My generation grew up on the mantra that you should “be yourself.” This rarely works out well. For a woman it can be especially hard to “be herself” and not experience career setbacks. And forget about being taken seriously if you’re also seen as a kind of “sex object.” Serious journalism, of the kind I’ve always been interested in, is a macho field, and if you don’t play by its rules, people are going to be weirded out by you. And when people can’t put you in a box they’d rather not deal with you at all.

On the other hand, songs about demon heads, poems about sex, and plays with ghosts in them are also part of my professional life. They’re also just an intrinsic part of who I am.

Over a decade ago, I received the shock of a lifetime when my cousin was killed in a car accident. She was a talented pianist and singer and just weeks before she passed away, she and I had an argument about me becoming “who I really am” eventually. I was leading a pretty strait-laced existence at the time and she saw right through it. She told me that I was a “crazy artist type” no matter what I did. I was not prepared to listen. We parted on an awkward note. I never saw her again, unless dreams count.

Her words stayed with me. No matter how much I tried to fight her vision of me, deep down inside, I knew it to be correct. I think I would have escaped a lot of disappointment and drama had I accepted that she was right much sooner.

Any meaningful life choice involves a degree of sacrifice. So you do what you must. And you give thanks for being disliked, because, honestly, most people in the world won’t care enough to dislike you in the first place.

I consider myself a serious writer, a serious journalist (though I barely work as a journalist anymore, tbh), and I think it shows in everything I do, because I try to do it well. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be able to do what I love. Were they justified? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know, since you can’t draw conclusions until your life is done. And who knows what my loved ones will eventually come to say about the choices I’ve made.

So, should you be like me? No. Be like yourself. Be clear-eyed about the consequences of being like yourself. Be clear-eyed about the consequences of not being like yourself. Whatever you do, try to do it well (and I include crap you do to pay the bills in that category too). Don’t let anyone, no matter how well-meaning, decide anything for you – because owning your screw-ups is sometimes even more important than not screwing up in the first place. Let your heart hold fast and good luck.

Q: P.S. Did you come up with phrase “tornado of shrieking demon heads” yourself?

A: Of course not. I got it off of Twitter and annoyingly enough can’t remember whose account that was.

P.S. I owe a word of thanks to WordPress Discover for featuring this post. I’m glad so many of you found it useful. This blog continues to exist due to Discover support, due to your support, due to me very much needing an outlet, and due to the occasional tip, which you can send here, if you wish:

For Natalia's stories

Owing to her young age, the author of the question that prompted this post would like to stay anonymous, but I’ve let her know that you guys have been reading, and she wants to say she’s glad that she inspired this post and this discussion ❤

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

Original publication date: MONDAY NOVEMBER 30TH, 2009. Republished with kind permission from John Williams.

His Sin, Her Soul
By Natalia Antonova

Reviewed:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The luster of scandal wore off Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a while ago. Anyone reading the testimony of Roman Polanski’s teenage victim on The Smoking Gun must have little capacity to be shocked by Humbert Humbert’s fictional crimes. I’m willing to bet that for the modern reader, the only shocking thing about Lolita is how the writing transforms the subject matter into a thing of startling beauty, and how effortlessly Nabokov avoids prurience in order to create something more chilling.

But while the scandal of it may have faded, the book’s vocabulary continues to live a life of its own. When a young girl is called a Lolita, we imagine a knowingly hyper-sexualized child, one who wears too much of her older sister’s make-up and lets her underwear peek out as she wanders into the peripheral vision of some man. If “Lolita” isn’t always code for “she was asking for it,” it’s at least a suggestion of some impropriety or mitigating factor, an indication that an older man’s younger victim wasn’t exactly a gentle-faced virgin — or she certainly didn’t look like it, Your Honor.

In light of this cultural appropriation, I wasn’t surprised when a fairly good friend asked me why on earth I — a stridently vocal survivor of sexual abuse, someone who screams her head off every time someone shrugs that “boys will be boys” — would profess so much admiration for Nabokov’s most famous book. Don’t I realize that Lolita the book and Lolita the term feed off one another in the public sphere? And that even if it were possible to separate it from the hiss of cultural static that has amplified around it over the years, Lolita is still a book that takes an extremely ugly story and makes it extremely gorgeous? Implicit in these inquiries was the real question, of course, which emerged after my replies failed to satisfy: “How can you stand reading it, with everything you say you have been through?” Continue reading “His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)”