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Great finds from elsewhere
You lucky, lucky girl. You have an apartment just your size. A bathtub full of gin. A heart the size of Alaska and a suitcase that can contain all your belongings before anyone connects the dots.
You lucky, lucky girl. You have two legs; each like a tree, and a soul that lives in the hips. When the hips sway sideways the whole world holds its breath, and goes straight to heaven. Only your soul has sworn to never leave this body, and to always keep dancing.
You take a lover who looks at you like maybe you’re magic. The one who only knows two things in the world; the arch of your back and your cupid’s bow. When your hips rock rhythmically his eyes take on the glow of a man that knows. Plant the most beautiful words in his ears and wait till they begin to sprout, then take an early harvest of love-begotten miracles in April, or May. Cherish your bright-eyed, magic lover. Let him praise your knees, your shins, your tendons and thighs. You deserve to be loved effortlessly. Outside the confines of time.
There’s no revenge. You are not stupid, hell, no. You will cherish your blessed lips that can whisper in the ancient language of love, the language with no words. Cherish the lips that can kiss, take bites of wild strawberries and nibble on your lover’s sacred skin. Take a mouthful of air. Take a mouthful of his laughter, clearer than a clink of brass. Take a mouthful of sour apples and fresh-baked bread. Chow it down. You are.
You loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars. You loved a man more beautiful and vibrant than a peacock’s feather. You lucky, lucky girl. Go on, and love. Artfully, slowly. Look every living thing right in the eye with no fear. You can stare anyone down and you know it. Learn to sing a whale’s song. Take your love with you everywhere you go. The world is so big, yet it’s so small.
You must stay gone. Gone away from those who confuse love with contracts, deals and social trends. Stay away from those who try to bargain it, like it is something you only buy from a street peddler, because he told you that everyone needs to have it. Stay out of the way of those who hide behind flat-chested sisters or crippled cats and someone else’s decisions to live someone else’s life. You lucky, lucky girl. Go on, and love. Look every living thing right in the eye with no fear. Cherish the man that knows. Let him teach you to be easy with the finity of things. Your bright-eyed, golden lover. Have the courage to see yourself with his eyes. And when he gives you the world, in return, give him a kiss and a smile. The rest is yours.
It is the time of the year when we all look so ugly. Every single imperfection about us emphasized by the grayish paleness of the skin and too much roundness about the face is apologizing for too long a winter yet again. Regardless of biological age, we all look like we are sixteen; that awkward stage, when everything about our bodies is unformed, undeveloped, some wild work in progress out of control waiting to finally bloom and become its best.
It is absolutely necessary to get distracted and animate the spirits, go and see pretty things, visit new, unexplored places, engage in new activities, connections and friendships, be seduced by the unknown, cross borders yet uncrossed.
Broadway in Brooklyn, almost perfectly aligned with Williamsburg Bridge is an example of a very special border. Both; the bridge and the street divide 2 totally different worlds; the world of hipsters North of it, and the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood; South of it. It is quite hard to think of two more unlikely next door neighbors. They really could not be further apart in terms of culture or lifestyle, yet they coexist in harmony each minding their own business along the lines of Broadway and the bridge, which, by means of unspoken mutual agreement became the marker of where the ‘Hipster Williamsburg’ ends, and the ‘Hasidic Williamsburg’ begins, or the other way round. They are divided by Broadway in the sense that when you cross it you see immediate change, but they remain connected by mutually respectful symbiotic relationship.
On hipster side everyone’s beautiful, stylish and 20 years old. Designer cafes selling designer coffee; $5 an Americano, hip young designer boutiques, trending bars, rooftops and clubs. On the other side everything is modest and raw. I can’t say that for a fact, but I would imagine it has not changed since the 40’s of the last century, or earlier.
I was first fascinated by this unlikely coexistence a few years ago; in 2011 or 2012 when, while being young, fabulous and broke I got a membership at the city’s cheapest gym; NYC Parks and Recreation Centers. For a yearly due of $127 at the time, I had access to whatever the facilities had to offer, which wasn’t much, but my location of preference; on Metropolitan avenue (about 7 blocks from Broadway), chosen due to relative proximity to where I lived that year, or month (wherever it was, I don’t even remember, because by now; I have lived everywhere really) had what I really needed; a swimming pool.
With my swimming skills not having progressed much since second grade which is when I took swimming classes for the first and the last time, and having had a slight trauma of a near drowning experience twice that same year (once on a lake and once in a pool; both times saved by my heroic father) I am quite a hopeless swimmer. Fearful, weak and un-adventurous. Never mastered freestyle, butterfly is in the realm of wildest dreams (alongside managing a decent serve or backhand at tennis, and drawing, to name just a few other talents that I displayed at an early age and somehow have maintained at entry-level fetal form ever since. But that’s a different story). I can, however pull off a floppy breast stroke, I can more or less float, and I sure do enjoy it.
At the time the Metropolitan Pool had different hours for different target groups depending mostly on age, gender, and procreative status. There was a certain time during the day dedicated to seniors, another dedicated to families, there was a co-ed swim for everyone, and there were certain hours reserved for women and girls only. I remember being a little confused and having trouble matching those categories with my schedule. I wanted to swim, but I wanted to follow the rules, and did not want to show up at a time that was meant for a target group I would not be considered a part of. The times which allowed everyone to swim, without any restrictions of gender, birth date or number of allowances claimed completely did not work with my free time. I sure wasn’t a senior, so that was out of the question. The only two time-slots that worked with my ‘profile’ and the time I had for potential swimming were ‘families’ and ‘women and girls’. I made some research and the conclusion was that to be considered a family you could not show up at the pool by yourself, you needed at least +1, and at least one of them had to be a child. You could not just bring your cousin, grandfather, or mother-in-law. These family ties did not qualify. So I eliminated that one also. I imagined showing up as the only childless person, and everyone giving me the ‘and what are YOU doing here’ look. After all you are not allowed to enter a city playground without a child. It is only reserved for caregivers or babysitters with actual babies or kids. To my knowledge if you do enter a playground childless you are breaking the law, or least of all you’ll be perceived as a potential pervert. So no; I did not want anyone to think I’m a pervert, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to execute my splashy floaty breast stroke with my people, so naturally I went with the ‘women and girls swim’.
It is 2011 or 2012. I am young fabulous and broke. I do have a bikini that I wear for summer beach trips to Coney Island and Far Rockaways, but I don’t really have a proper swim suit. I am very close to ordering one on Amazon for a sale price of $24.50, but it hasn’t happened quite yet. I put on my summer two piece under eleven layers of clothing, because it’s an exceptionally cold November or March and I go swimming.
Ladies’ locker room. I mind my own business. I mind my own mind. I am in my own mind. It is an exceptionally cold November or March, and I am most likely sad (because what is there to be happy about in an exceptionally cold November or March). So I mind my own mind. I most likely have something on it. I get rid of my eleven layers. I pay attention to no one. I get ready; swimming cap, swimming goggles, flip-flops and all, and off I go.
I am looked at. I am naked. Not literally; I am wearing a bikini, but everything else is bare. My arms, my shoulders, my legs, my stomach. My long hair, before I pull it all up and put on the blue rubber swimming cap. When I enter I stir a controversy for a split second. Just for a breath all eyes turn to me. Not in disgust. Not in adversity. In discreet curiosity. Of my bare skin. I am swimming with all the other women. Young and old. Little girls, teenage girls. Mothers, grandmothers. All of them are wearing dresses. Dresses in the pool. When they get in the dresses get puffy with air against the surface of the water and open up like parasols. And a minute later; there they are all floating like a fantastic bloom of jellyfish in slow motion. Jellyfish in stripes and polka dots, floral jellyfish, solid jellyfish of all colors. Marc Chagall could have painted them. Not a single stray hair sticking out from underneath the swimming caps of the married women. Few stray hairs flying away here and there in the water like floating halos around the heads of the little ones. I am curious and fascinated. They are curious and fascinated. Especially the little ones. We are all swimming together, all learning something new today, maybe something unheard of up until this very moment.
When I head back to the changing room I take off the swimming cap and everything else and shower. Again; I am the only one more naked then everybody else. I get dressed quickly (it is an exceptionally cold November or March, and there’s not much heat in the changing room of NY’s cheapest gym) and fully clothed I start combing and blow drying my long hair. And this is the most naked I have ever felt in my entire life. Not any moment of the closest intimacy in full nudity and bright daylight, has ever made me feel more naked. At this point the little ones in the changing room can’t hide the excitement and confusion. Their faces turn to me, eyes wide open, almost hypnotized, showing a mix of disbelief and bewilderment. I think some of them are witnessing anything like this for the first time in their lives. What they see is disturbing and mesmerizing. I am the cause of this. I am the one who’s different. It does not make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to be a cause of unease for anyone either, so I just smile at them in the mirror and keep drying my hair. In the meantime mothers and grandmothers are changing wet dresses to dry ones behind changing room doors and curtains, and privately switching swimming caps into perfectly dry, perfectly styled wigs. It is a very intimate moment of exploring, learning and understanding for me and for them. I feel especially connected with the little ones, because they are the ones who are experiencing this for the first time in their lives, just like me. They whisper among themselves, smile back at me in the mirror and I know there will be questions after they get home with their mothers, grandmothers and sisters this evening.
In Hasidic Judaism the slightest form of public nudity is a sin. Nudity understood not as showing too much, but as showing any bare skin at all. That is why the women stay covered neck to toes even in scorching heat of New York summers. Opaque stockings, skirts covering the knees, long sleeves. Dresses in the swimming pool. A woman’s uncovered hair is equivalent to physical nudity, so it is also sinful. That is why, when they get married their heads are shaved and covered with wigs or turbans. Did I break the nudity taboo for some of these girls? Maybe. Did their mothers hate me for inspiring some uneasy questions? I don’t think so.
There’s nothing exceptional or especially revealing about swimming in a pool with a group of women, showering with them in a common gym shower, or changing to dry clothes and drying your hair with them, and yet… everything about it is exceptional. All of these activities are profoundly intimate if you think about it, and if you observe someone enjoy their swim in a public pool and dry their hair after in the manner that represents their culture, it is an intimate exchange of cultural codes and meanings. There is the simple, culturally conditioned, yet very personal behavior, like the way you enjoy your swim in a public pool and there is the ‘why?’ and there is the answer. Then there is understanding, and then there is respect. The more we know about each other the closer we become.
Fast forward. I am bare on Broadway again. But different. I am nude on the inside under a heavy winter coat on an exceptionally cold evening of a relatively warm March 2016. I am naked on the inside; beneath layers and layers of clothes and it feels so pleasant. I’m totally naked, there’s no fear or shame left. I have asked and answered so many ‘whys’, ‘ifs’ and ‘whats’, understood and processed so much and became so much closer to myself and everyone I’ve ever met.
Who is running now? Where and why? What does it mean when you don’t appreciate me? Don’t acknowledge my needs, my talents, my greatness, what does it mean for me, what does it do to me? And why doesn’t it do absolutely anything? Why am I getting so high on me? Is one’s place in heaven worth giving up for a certain kind of kisses? And if so; why are you so afraid? What do I want from this very here and now? And why am I not afraid to say it out loud? How can I laugh till I hyperventilate again, the way we did with A. in sophomore year in college before anyone ever cheated or died? How can I be dancing the way one can only dance after they’ve decided that nothing can ever hurt them anymore, and that from now on everything is going to be just fine? How and why am I so happy and so alive?
I am so happy I could be the parasol woman. I am the fantastic jelly fish woman and Marc Chagall painted me. I am floating in the air, I cross the border and fly over to South side. It is totally unchanged. Quiet and peaceful, same old buildings with bars in the windows for protection, with simple, modest store fronts, solid metal balconies where children play safely during long summer days like quiet domesticated birds in a cage. I cross the border again, fly over to North side. And a moment later; I disappear and I am no more.
My Mom and I share a birthday.
I came by means of a miracle, in the glamourous 80’s sparkling with glitter , disco music and sequins. I came way in advance of the expected time, as a gift on her own, early birthday and found the world ‘slain’ by Sabrina twirling and twerking in her denim shorts to the beat of first synth chords and simple, yet tell-it-all lyric of the simplistically early feminist ‘Boys, boys, boys’.
Every year, when the date approaches I try to call more, to be in touch more, to be present more. Transatlantically, somehow.
Our birthday is approaching so the other day we catch up.
We talk about fast fashion and the need for everyone to go vegan in order to save the planet.
In our catch ups we talk about everything starting from mom telling me that auntie Sophie broke her hip and they had guests over for dinner and me saying that the weather has been fine and I’m trying to fight a moth plague that’s eating up my winter sweaters to discussing legalizing weed and abolishing celibate in the Catholic Church.
So this other time mom says
-Child, you live in Brooklyn, right?
-The other day me and dad were watching a documentary about a pizza place where ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was shot. It’s in Brooklyn too!’
Dad cuts in ‘It’s under the Brooklyn Bridge.’
I google Lenny’s, as I’ve never been there.
-Dad, it’s not Brooklyn Bridge, it’s the railway, where the D train passes.
It’s in Bensonhurst, Ma. Not far from me. That neighborhood where I slept in a shoe room with a cat on a deflated matress for a week, When I was homeless.
We both start laughing till we hyperventilate.
-You should write a book, child.
-I’m working on it, Ma.
I am working on it, Ma.
Lenny’s is almost next door to the place I dragged Clau to that summer to get a haircut. I begged and pleaded and he looked like River Phoenix after. Ma calls Clau my ‘partner in crime’ or ‘ Bonnie and Clyde’ due to all the craziness we’ve been through together.
That Summer I was robbed, bullied and became homeless for over a month in effect. My passport was stolen, I got phone calls with threats. The man I loved was figuring out wether he preferred intimacy with teenage tourists from Europe or men on high heels. Getting intimate with the former secured him a fancy free vacation in the south of Europe. The latter secured him fame by association in neighboring states.
I cried an ocean of tears that summer. Homeless and flat broke. And proud with the pride of my superwoman grandmother who raised three kids in post War Warsaw on her own. ‘What do you mean I can’t do this’ I bit my lips till they bled.
A friend moved me out of the place where I stayed with the bully.
We carried all my belongings on our backs. The two of us. In July. Dripping with blood sweat and tears. My clothes. 3 pieces of furniture, my guitar. The heat and humid was pouring down. My matress was 6 tons. I started crying like a fifteen year old over the 6 ton matress, as we were dropping my shit at a storage in Crown Heights. ‘I can’t. I can’t do this anymore’ A hug. ‘Yes, you can, man. It’s okay. It could be much worse. You’ll be just fine’. I’m sobbing. A hug. I’m fifteen. And I can’t anymore. A hug. We made it.
I crashed with Clau and his two wonderful roommates (hosts) for a week. They gave me the ‘shoe room’ ; room dedicated to their collection of shoes where I would sleep on a deflating matress, hugging their crazy, yet lovely cat, Harley, until I moved to a couch in Bay Ridge with Matylda and Marcin, crashing in the living room, hugging their boxer, Charlie at night, till’ I eventually found my own place.
When in Bensonurst, Clau would offer listening to my broken heart pouring out. And offer his love stories in return. We’d go on like this till dawn.
-Do you love him?
-I love him.
-Would you die for him?
‘Yes.’ I’d say as if somebody asked me to pass the salt.
We would binge watch ‘Lost’ season 1 even though it was way outdated already, get a $5 order of street food to share when we got hungry and sleep in his bedroom taking turns.
‘I slept in the bed last night. Tomorrow you have to wake up early, so you take the bed and I take the shoe room’.
He would always offer his cool and a joint, which I would always turn down. I would never feel unwelcome save for my own inner urge ‘don’t be a burden, don’t be a burden, get your shit together, move on and act!’
-Ma, I love you. But I never learnt it this way. That you really, truly find out who cares for you in situations like this. When you have nothing. And have nowhere to go. No place to call home.
-Ebb and flow, child.
We laughed more.
I am working on it, Ma.
And I feel like a butterfly today.
Within the last 6 years I collected 150 pennies from random change. I took them to the bank and was told to roll them up. I organized them in 3 neat rolls; 50 pennies each. And for my gold (copper) wealth of 150 pennies I received a dollar bill and two quarters. Pure mathematics, but the wealth somehow felt degraded. The same is true about the stories I collected within this time. Organized in words, they will be no more than a few pages of manuscript, or a patch of digital text. They might appear quite flat; just a collection of sentences; few quotation marks, some commas, several hyphens and periods. In fact, they are an abundance of cognitive and bonding wealth, and everyday inspiration; heroic stories, heartbreaking stories, comforting stories, unbelievable stories, all sort of stories that came my way and I became a part of by participating in them, listening to them, or just watching them unfold.
This one goes for the stories of women. I weave myself into each and every women’s story that I’ve witnessed, or that has been shared with me. I live it, I breathe it, I grieve it, rejoice in it. After a while of this self-begotten exile in the Antipodes of all possible sorts, I have started attracting those stories. Being an expat in the Antipodes gives you an advantage of a perfect listener. It also gives you an advantage of meeting people in between; in a space that is foreign, and is home to nobody, as if you were meeting nowhere, at no time. Here, beyond space and time, at a place that does not exist, where everything and everyone is in transition, the stories come revealed, and they come as they are. They open up, and they’re being shared beautifully, shamelessly, proudly, entirely, beyond fear of judgement.
The stories of the women that I salute are always about bigger things; about love, about growth, always about doing better, being more. Each story is so rich, and so complex, I can’t do them justice in a small piece of writing, so I’m saluting to small parts of the big picture, which is always a story of personal triumph, a story of overcoming, a story of struggle and genuine effort that gets rewarded.
Here’s to the story of the incredible I. We used to work together as English teachers in Warsaw, years ago. Then she quit, and soon started quite a spectacular career in business. After I had left Poland, I still kept following the news of her success through social media and occasional messaging. This woman has been a thriving winner, and she deserves every bit of it; beautiful, smart, hardworking. And it was not until years after I had left when I found out, that already at the time when we were working together (I was in my mid twenties, just got my Master’s degree, it was, like, my second job ever, I didn’t know anything about anything) she had already been through beating heroin addiction. Her strength, passion and success have continued to amaze and inspire me. And when I got older, and became capable of imagining (although I never will entirely) what she must have been through, what it must have felt like, going through that struggle, when your very life is at stake, a struggle that most people would find impossible to win, I started cheering her success with my whole heart. Here’s to you, I.!
Here’s to the story of the beautiful J. The beautiful and strong J, who lost her beloved mother to a long-term sickness, not long ago, and has not ceased to be the most loving, energetic, fun and comforting friend to me and everyone she knows, and an amazing super mom, to her new baby boy. She’s gone through this suffering and loss, and has remained unchanged; positive-thinking, strong, giving and loving. Here’s to you, J.!
Here’s to the story of the super-woman M.; an unbelievably talented artist and a beautiful woman. She, also, achieved the impossible. We met in NY, shortly before her beloved mom was diagnosed with a rare disease, that within a very short time confined her to bed for years. What did my M. do? She did not lose hope, she did not give up on her mom, or her own plans, dreams, her own future, and life. She achieved the impossible; has been helping her mom continuously, stayed with her as much as she has been able to, and at the same time pursued her dream, wrote plays in Paris, played in theaters in Poland and New York, found time to be with her family, and take care of her love. Many times sleepless and penniless, she has not stepped back once. She’s lived each and every day of her life to the fullest, even more than before, became more fearless, more liberated, unapologetic, more loving, appreciative, more beautiful, more fulfilled and happier. Here’s to you, M.!
It is January 23, 2016. New York is covered in snow.
I turn to all of you. To I., to J., to M. I turn to my number one A. who is the smartest, funniest woman I know, who understood, when I missed two most important days of her life (her wedding, and her mom’s farewell), who I can laugh with, talk politics, talk absurd of nowadays, talk the ever-dreamy visions of our (still) future lives, and just talk ourselves. I turn to AZ. who did everything I’ve ever heard anyone ever do for the man she loves. I turn to KJ. who is my partner in crime, soul-searching fellow and a spirit laugher, that can laugh with me at the darkest faces of heartbreak ever discovered by mankind. I turn to my mom, who has done everything I’ve ever seen or experienced anyone do for her mom, her man, and me.
I’m a diligent student. I’m learning a lesson from each and every one of you.
I’m going through my exercise in loss with you.
Don’t let anyone tell you ‘you can’t do this’, ‘it’s broken’, ‘it’s over’, ‘it’s done’, ‘you can’t help it’, ‘you can’t fix it’, ‘you can’t’.
Don’t let anyone say ‘this is where you will live. this is where you’re going to sleep. this is what you should do. this is who you’re going to kiss.’
We all have our demons.
The resources to deal are sustainable and free.
I live on meat.
I play the carnivore.
Among thousands of people who, each play their role,
I put on a costume of a meat-eater.
It’s like an apron, but it’s really not. And what hunger craves, unwillingly, tastes bitter.
I’m having a bite in a company of a neuroscientist,
who plays the role of an all time skeptic.
A nonchalant leather jacket, despite the weather at the age of thirty.
I’m eating lunch with someone wearing a costume of an attorney in law.
I’m biting off chunks of sinewy beef,
while they browse through their briefcase for god knows what.
I am thirty something and I don’t know a thing.
I once had dinner with someone who was seventy three, and knew nothing either.
To my delight they left the costume of a sage at home that night.
I had a meal too with a man who could not have sex with his wife.
It tasted bland. The meal and the thought.
I said I was sorry. I said I didn’t know.
I only know, I live on meat.
And on this other thing, that this little island is so tired of ,
even though it means the universe.
Universe tastes sinewy and bitter too.
I know, I’m losing something, as digestion process comes through.
God, it’s so cold.
The universe is raw.
I’m losing something and it’s not me.
And it’s not you either.
I’ve lost you a million times before I ever said you were the one that I loved, and needed.
I’m still wearing a costume of someone in grief.
Even though I know I can believe,
(Believe more than anyone ever believed in the history of bleeding.)
Prospect Park froze over night.
I laughed in the face of the frost.
In the company of someone in a costume of tough.
Then we both went home and we laughed more, till we cried.
(It’s okay, they have it worse in Chicago).
Does not want to kick in.
The water froze in the kettle.
Peeing feels warm.
I’m chewing on words
Mold them in my mouth as they miss the target and go.
I took off my costume.
Paper takes all.
-Had you said ‘I have to go, love. I have to go to places, where you cannot go with me, and I have to go alone.’ I would have said ‘I am strong! I am small, but I am a giant. Look at me! I stand tall, I can cut off monsters’ heads and deal with bullies!’
-Let me finish! Had you said ‘I have to go, love. I have places to see, and things to do, and people to visit, and I have to do it all on my own’. I would have said ‘I will stand by you. The world is so small. It just seems like a giant. And my thighs are so strong. I can walk valleys, climb mountains, wander the streets of cities and turn houses into homes on the way’.
-Just let me finish! Had you said ‘I have to go, love. I just have to go. And I have to go alone’. I would have said ‘It’s okay. Love is just the beginning. It builds, creates, it opens the doors and gates and spreads the roads wide open. Against the ugly things people say to each other in the name of love, that I could never say to you. Against the wounds that people bring onto each other in the name of love. Against lies, against bad advice, against it all, love stands still’. I would have embraced with no judgement all those who come and go in between, and I would have said ‘It is okay, love. Take good care of yourself, be beautiful and be brave.’
-But I said just that.
One hundred weeks is two years. One hundred weeks ago I was looking at the city from across the river. One hundred weeks later the city is looking at me, surprised, that I am still what I am. I am the sister. I am the lover. I am the mother.
I am the wise.
I am the dumb.
It’s all in me.
I am, love.
With a pen down my throat,
and a heart in my hand, I win.