Me


Just read a lovely experimental essay about immigrant identity and longing. It’s a piece by Anna Prushinskaya up at The Millions. An excerpt:

I set alarms to call my grandmother. I don’t call her for weeks that add up to months, and when I finally call her, I tell her that I will call again next week. I don’t call her next week. I think about calling her each time that I say I will call her. When I call her, I can hear the background noise of the street. She says regular things like that she misses me. She asks for great-grandchildren.

I read something recently that described stealing as lack of faith. We steal when we don’t have faith that the things we need will come. When I don’t call, I think I am stealing time. I do not have faith that at the end of the conversation about the weather there is something that turns out to be love.

It’s a day of reading Russian stuff. So then I read some ruminations about Russian language from a piece up at Jewcy:

I love Russian. I love how the phrases resonate with innate lyricism; how the constants punctuate speech with that distinctly Slavic bite[…]But I especially love how speaking the language makes me feel – like an edgier, snarkier me, with a stockpile of one-liners and wit that rarely makes its way into my English-language conversations. For these reasons and more, I’ve incurred countless raised eyebrows from fellow Russian-speakers when answering that obligatory question – where are you from? Because I’m not from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Baku, Tashkent, or some variation thereof—I grew up right here, between Brooklyn and Jersey.

The author, Samantha Shokin,  goes on to say:

My bilinguality was always the defining characteristic I shared about myself, and eventually kids started accusing me of sporting a foreign accent. I relished having a unique background that set me apart from the rabble, but hated the exclusion that came with it. In truth, my pseudo-immigrant pride was really a defense mechanism used to cope with a general feeling of “otherness” that I could never quite shake.

I resonate wit this a lot, though it was less a true bilingualism for me and more of a biculturalism, that I had knowledge of this other country, this other world, and place. I had a strange nostalgia growing up for a place I’d never been to, a country that no longer existed.

The author goes onto meet some newer Russian immigrants:

These friends were creative, exotic, and spoke Russian so beautifully that even expletives fizzled in my ears with charming effervescence. To them, I was a novelty; a bridge between cultures. I laughed at jokes I didn’t understand because I wanted so badly to. Soon I found myself wondering, would I be like them if I’d grown up there? If my parents had never left?

I ask myself these questions a lot. Who would I have been if I had been born in Moscow?

 

Screen Capture of "Russian Roller-Coaster" at VICE.com

My translation of this wonderfully crazy short story by Andrei Krasnyashykh was just published at VICE magazine, as part of their ongoing VICE Reader series that features literary fiction and other literary snippets.

An excerpt of my translation:

It’s so simple, after all. God is everywhere. A shirt button fell off because God. They were showing a movie on TV because God. I got hungry because God. Women put on makeup because God. My neighbor’s dog got lost because God, because I poisoned it, because God wanted it this way, so I, so it wouldn’t bark at me.

God knows everything I don’t know. Like, I don’t know who lives in Brazil, but God knows. I don’t know why salt is white, like sugar, but not tasty, but God knows.

Sometimes I act like a mouse, because suddenly God thinks I’m a mouse. Then I think, and then suddenly God thinks I’m not a mouse, and I start to fly, because God suddenly thinks I’m a bird. And they say: you’re flying because you know how to fly, and maybe God doesn’t even know you know how to fly. I say: if God didn’t know that I know how to fly, then I’d be swimming, and God would have known I swim.

And they say: but we swim when God doesn’t know we swim. I say: And your tail and fins, where are they? Who swims without fins? Without fins shit swims. And when God knows I can swim, I swim with fins and a tail. Like you’re supposed to.

Read the whole story here. Read other entries in the VICE Reader series here.

On a panel about memoir at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference this past March, Stephen Elliott loosely quoted Michelangelo:

I carve to set the angel free.

And now, months later, the quote—which originally read “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”—finally makes sense.

A few years ago, I kept trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay about my complicated Russian-American identity, my dual nature, about growing up as the only American-born child in a Soviet émigré household. Around the same time, I was trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay to explain my complicated relationship with Judaism.

In Boston (the host city for this year’s AWP), our conference hotel was off the Green Line ‘T.’ Like that line—sometimes more like a surface-running bus, sometimes more like a train—I can pass in two worlds. Yet I (often)(always) feel like an outsider. A writer watching on the sidelines. Eileen Myles once told me, “In all your travels, you feel like an alien, don’t you?”

It occurred to me that there (doesn’t have to be)(can’t be)(shouldn’t be) only one essay from me on either of those subjects. Those are stories that need to be told, like an angel clawing its way out of marble. I need to carve away at them little by little, from different angles, with different tools, to set some stories free. New anecdotes and pieces of evidence will surface and accumulate as I live longer and find new ways to write.

I feel freed and a bit unbound.

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Rainbow over Brooklyn

Photo by Barry Yanowitz; licensed by Creative Commons.

After who knows how many days of a persistent heat wave, the clouds just broke into a thunderous rainstorm. The construction workers on scaffolds outside my window ran into the middle of the street cheering. One man in a white tank top and back brace raised his arms and head to the sky laughing. I can’t help but smile — we’ve all been waiting for this.

Somehow, I <3 you Brooklyn (even as I sit here in my sweat-soaked no-air-conditioning t-shirt).

Photo og "Nancy" by Harry Gamboa; Cover of SUmmer 2012 issue of The MAssachusetts REviewMy translation of a personal essay by Andrei Krasnyashykh just came out in the Summer 2012 issue of The Massachusetts Review. The essay “On the Dream Within a Dream,” is about dreaming about dreaming, about not being able to wake up, about trying to escape from a dream trapped inside another dream. The essay is funny, fantastical, and strange. Typical Krasnyashykh. The cover (left) is a gorgeous photograph by Harry Gamboa. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

In Kafka’s fantastical nighttime world, the everyday logic of daytime suddenly invaded. Nightmares became a combination of delusion and logic, or more accurately, the delusion, without rhyme or reason, suddenly stopped playing by its own rules and discovered an internal everyday logic. Reality within the unreal (by the way, in magic realism, though it often feels dissonant, it’s the other way around: the surreal is within the confines of reality, and the experience of reading Kafka is noticeably different from reading García Márquez. The latter isn’t scary, and, after all,—I keep getting further and further away from the subject of my piece, but there’s nothing I can do about it since it’s already happening—the first story of García Márquez, “The Third Resignation” (written in 1947), is considered Kafkaesque because he writes about the feelings of a dead person, not as the subject matter but rather as the atmosphere of reality within the unreal).

Read the full first page below the fold, or buy the issue for $10.00 to read the full text. This issue also includes fiction by Tabish Khair and poetry by Lawrence Raab, among others.
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From an op-ed by singer/songwriter/author Alina Simone in the Wall Street Journal:

But as recent headlines make clear, we still haven’t managed to outrun some of our Cold War-era habits. There is an I-told-you-so kind of glee in U.S. reporting of the Russian protests over mishandling of the elections, the same glee that’s reflected in coverage of the “Occupy” movement by Russian news outlets. “Mass arrests in the United States” a nightly news report on Channel 1 bleated. Thirty-one protestors had been taken into custody in Washington D.C. — hardly a revolution, but such is the distorted glimpse we tend to get of one another’s politics.

I witnessed the same thing when I first visited Moscow, Russia in 1994. From an essay I wrote about that trip:

That first time in Russia, I couldn’t figure people out. They had a strange air of contradiction in their essence. Architecture was torn between modernism and an attachment to classical forms, Greek-style columns painted over with awful pastel greens or yellows that were now flaking off. The youth were torn between making jokes at the expense of Americans and between a strong desire to imitate American culture. Life was torn between glamorous fashion magazines and crumbling Khrushchev-era apartments.

I first heard about Alina from this silly article in The New York Times Style Magazine about a new wave of Russian literati and media makers. Can I have in, please?

I’ve been thinking a lot about experimental genres these days, and have stumbled upon flash nonfiction. Did I invent this? I guess it’s the same as flash fiction, but I’m self-consciously telling you about myself.

Below is one of my first attempts at flash nonfiction. It’s inspired by a translation of a Juan Villoro story published at Words Without Borders.

I hate flying because I can never be present, in the meditative sense. By the time I’ve taken stock of where we are, the plane has leapt forward another 65 mph mile.

Here’s a snippet from a recent “Brevity” blog post by Anna Vodicka that really resonated with me:

The poetry class did not make me a poet. I wrote a lot of bad poems. But it did turn my attention to the short form—the art of economy and responsibility. With Kinnell’s poem and Wrigley’s words in mind, I thought, “Yes. Prose, it is.”

I plucked a few lines from their stanzas, let them settle responsibly into the new space of a paragraph, and cautiously let prose in. That’s when I heard the sound. It went, “click.”

I am currently working on an experimental essay all about how poetry and literary translation has affected my nonfiction prose writing and pushed me in a, well, experimental direction.

Can’t wait to finish it and (hopefully) find a published home for it. Then I’ll share it here!

Russian Dolls Promo Image from Lifetime Network

If the guilty pleasure in watching reality TV shows is derived from the voyeuristic clips of outrageous, hair-pulling catfights and the chance to glimpse the homes and lifestyles of the rich and not-so-famous, then Russian Dolls won’t satisfy even the basest TV-watching desires.

From my review in the newest Bitch magazine. Read the rest below, or buy the print or digital edition here!

After I wrote the review, the Lifetime network ran a marathon of all the remaining episodes in season one. It is still unclear whether the show has been cancelled or if it will return for a second season. My review should make it pretty clear which option I prefer.

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