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”

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””

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

For some reason (possibly because I’m very lucky or because I have the habit of ignoring the world around me), I get surprised when men say sexist stuff to me about my work. I was in a Moscow bar recently on a dark and stormy night, and a typical twatty overpaid British expat man of the sort that should be displayed at the zoo with a plaque reading Typical Twatty Overpaid British Expat Man told me it must be “quite nice” to have “such a fashionable hobby” as writing plays – with zero irony, of course, because I must be a bored rich girl (ahahahaha) who must go through a phase of thinking she’s the next Beckett before moving on to pottery or adult coloring books or whatever it is that bored rich girls do. Oh, and he “used to have a girlfriend who wrote plays” but “she’s in marketing now.” I do hope that “in marketing now” is a euphemism for “slept with his best friend.”

Anyway, although sexism with regard to women writers surprises me every time, and although I rarely pay attention to whether or not the author I’m reading is a woman, it must be said that not everyone thinks like me. So here’s a list of some of my favorite female writers, and their books and plays, because it’s IWD, and because whatever. They are great not because they are written by women. They are great because they are great.  Continue reading “International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire”

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”

September 2011 is over

I can’t believe that it’s actually over, and I’m expecting to wake up at any point in October and somehow wind up back in September.

I went back to work full time and Alexey nearly finished his film. My mother’s been sunning herself on various beaches of the world, so there’s been zero help at home and we’re spending nearly all of the money we have on our nanny, Nina Ivanovna, who’s not above doing the laundry and the dishes, thank Sweet Baby Jesus.

I somehow managed to write up a new version of my play and sent it off to Modern Drama Week in Kiev – though I think I’d be OK with the fact that a play that premiered in Moscow doesn’t get read in Kiev, if they need me to make room for the newest batch of authors, or just don’t like the play, which is set in Moscow, altogether. Kiev is still where all things began – plays, scripts, and this love affair with Alexey.

The result of the love affair has trouble napping during the day when I’m around, so I put him in his basket, stick it on the floor of the bathroom, and let the water run a little bit. Though I try to use the water sparingly, I have nightmares about the water bill. White noise from the fan just doesn’t seem to do the trick.

The play’s Moscow premiere was alright. I would have asked for something better – my husband cut the two scenes with guns, reading through the synopsis for them instead. You just don’t do that with guns. In his opinion, the problem with the reading was the pace. Still, people got up and said incredibly complimentary things, which surprised me. My so-called generation is classed as the one that came “after the fire-breathing Yury Klavdiev” – i.e., comparatively speaking, we are not as exciting or interesting – but I wouldn’t put, say, Marina Krapivina or Olga Strizhak in that category at all, for example. I’ve been surrounded by interesting people, who are doing interesting things. Perhaps I can learn by example.

In spite of all of these exciting things happening – plays, movies, newspapers, friends, Lyovka slowly learning to lift his head, etc., September has been a tiring, demoralizing month. I feel like the entire Moscow Victory Day Parade has flattened me under wheels and boots – and then turned around and flattened me all over again.

What doesn’t help is that I know that things are about to get more complicated from here on out. The movie will need to have a life beyond the Advanced School of Journalism, beyond Moscow. I’ll have to devote October to English subtitles, among other things.

Fatigue is the ultimate relationship-destroyer. Long before there’s stuff being tossed out of apartment windows, there is fatigue, the gray watchman at the foot of the bed.

Although I’ve fallen into a rhythm – work, baby, work, baby, with occasional flashes of husband-time – it’s not enough, because there is no Natalia-time. Getting to pleasure-read on the metro on the way to and from work does not count. I refuse to believe that it counts. The banya counts, on the other hand – I need more banya in my life.

Then there’s the jealousy of Alexey’s friends and colleagues. If we’re late to some event, I can count on being pulled aside for a little chat about “clipping his wings” and so on – as if my goddamn home life is these people’s business. The fact that we have an infant at home fails to register. Alexey tries to be everywhere at once, and it results in disaster for both of us.

The thing that unites us is the fact that Lyovka has begun to develop a personality. He grins when you come to get him out of his crib, he tries to grab his little green dog rattle. It’s very hard in the beginning, when they’re so small that they kind of don’t register you half the time. Now that Lyovka is constantly chatting away in baby language, communication is being established. Alexey speaks to him in Russian, I do it in English. The nosy neighbors are amazed.

I’m writing about nudism at the moment. Autumn is a third of the way done. Alexey’s off on tour to Poland in just a few days. The trees in Novogireyevo are raining red and yellow. I don’t know what’s going to happen next – I just know that September is over.