I know. If only it always stemmed from confidence - let me look even better than I do already - instead of this quiet nagging little sense of inadequacy.
I know. If only it always stemmed from confidence - let me look even better than I do already - instead of this quiet nagging little sense of inadequacy.
Something is happening to me except it’s not a new thing at all. I want to go back. It is a thing I’ve done my whole life. A yen to return, mostly to the place that bore me. Or to versions and ideas about what home means. For example, I walk down the labyrinthine walkway from our hotel room in Crete down to the sea, and I am nostalgic. But for what? This is a new place. I ask - is that the original facade? I see Russian tourists wearing chunky heels from 1990 and I smile. Little Scandinavian boys frolic on the beach in tiny speedos and I smile and think ah, bathing trunks just like in Poland in the late eighties and in some small rural towns, right now.
Everything is a loophole and keyhole and rabbit hole all rolled into one. For no apparent reason I turned to my husband at one point today and said “I wish it was 1987.” He didn’t ask me why. He knows what I am. A creature forever pining for the way things were.
I can never find a proper outlet for this time traveling mind fuckage in New York because New York is new and even it’s tarnished surfaces gleam with modernity and newness and steel and iron. Everything is always refurbished or redone or remodeled or made over or glammed up. Not much is allowed to stay exactly the way it was.
Summer sucks me a up into a vortex of non stop memories.
My first novel was about that very thing - the pull of adolescent summers. My second novel was also about a backwards leap - toward a lost self. My third book will be more of the same. 1960s Poland. The tug and push and tides of love and history. Now and then, then, all over again.
The hallway leading to my grandmothers apartment in Poland smells like it has for decades - smoky, ashy, metallic, the residue of fried onions and wet shoes. Or something.
Who does this? Who is pining like this? I am like King Midas. I touch something and it becomes an instant memory. It ceases to be alive but instead becomes a mental postcard, which I will return to over and over again in my heart.
It’s dark now. The lights up in the hills come from houses or cars swerving down the mountainside but these lights seem so distant I keep mistaking them for airplanes. There is accordion music playing down by the sea & I hear children shouting and laughing, children who should be asleep but night means nothing here, except the prolonging of a beautiful day.
My husband keeps closing the terrace doors and I keep opening them, who cares about letting the air conditioning out. I want to let the night in. I want to be aware of island sounds, because they calm me, the tide splashing against the white pebbles & rocks, like some kind of lullaby.
The boys are asleep, earlier than last night. Swimming in salty waves did them in, and swimming in the pool, no suits or rash guards, just their strong little bodies, like sea animals, slick and quick and happy and alive.
I am sun kissed. More than that. More like the sun and I made out, and there is one tiny line of white around my neck where my thin necklace lay. I must remember to take it off tomorrow before setting out for the beach again.
We ate so well, and so much. Fresh fish, and cheese, and wild goat and baklava dripping with honey, sticky with dates and raisins. Normally I loathe raisins, and I am ambivalent about feta, but I love everything here, turns out.
First of all, it’s not a number that scares me. It feels appropriate, comfortable, like I found it leaning against the wall at some quiet intersection, taking a drag of a cigarette, resigned at who it has become and why - stalwart, evocative, wry, waiting for me, this 38
I am typing this with the sides of my thumbs, careful, on this little screen because even my fingertips are decidedly Polish, thick and round and fighting for steadiness
I look out into the gentle hills which we call mountains & at the small planes flying across a goldenwhite sky, planes heading toward the tiny airport in Maslow and I hear the sunset croak of distant frogs and I am happy, and just as quiet
The cigarettes here have pretty names like Iris and Vogue Lilas and people smoke them with little regard to surrounding company. I spy slim singed stems in the grass and on the pavement, wretched little badforyou things, tossed into the air like nothing and it’s not great, no, but even then the sight is a memory, and also brings me comfort
What can I tell u about this place, right now, one day into 38, the brown skin on my shoulders peeling from Florida a few weeks ago, and my feet tired after traipsing through cow dung this morning, at a sleepy green farm where I watched my sons chase dirty mud-dripping sheep & I laughed as they spun river reeds in the air, as my father called out to them, naming my oldest boy his sweet caballero, and me, paces behind, heart filling with peace and a beautiful realization that we shall always come back here
What can I tell you that haven’t told anyone before, not the things I’ve written about in a novel I wish had sold better, a novel I wish I hadn’t trimmed down, or the things I always mention to my husband, as we round the corner of Sienkiewicz avenue, and I point to the apartments there, “I always wondered what if I’d grown up here, spent my summers in fancy downtown, and sat on a crumbling balcony watching the pulsating crowds, not back on babcia’s quiet -” I know, he cuts me off, smiling, you’ve told me this before
I repeat myself here
I am on constant rewind
The butter makes me cry, one smear of bright yellow butter on a soft roll over milky coffee at breakfast and I swoon - not so obviously, so that I don’t scare the children just
isn’t this yummy? Do you like it?
Yes mamo, yes mommy
Masło, masełko is what we call it here
We know, mamo
It rained on my birthday and then it stopped.
Family arrived in toddling droves, up up the path to the meadow, because I am the Great Uniter, and the bad blood - there’s always bad blood in Polish families - ran thin and dry, and my two grandmothers stood side by side posing for pictures, complimenting one another on their pallor and eyes and telling one another that soon, soon they would die but wasn’t it such a lovely, wonderful evening
I can tell you that I love it here
I can tell you 38 has filled me with gravitas, turned me into a wise observer, a jotter down of notes and loves and lives.
My camera lens is drawn to the eviscerated things, still standing from when I was a small girl and before, because my next novel will be stories about broken hearts & this very city in the 1960s and I’ll try not to use ‘fuck’ as much. It was a time of turmoil then, the tides turning, politically, epically, and what better way to stay here than to go back to America and keep writing about it…
I am full of ideas
I am full of longing but it is a specific kind, one that doesn’t turn me dour
Yes it’s still strange/awful/surreal to walk by the guy who was my buddy once, now wasted on drugs and cheap vodka, I can smell his sour stench from miles, hovering above him like a fucked-up halo, and I wonder if he thinks I’m lucky or spoiled or just a mirage
but then my Babcia strokes my cheeks and calls me the same pet names she called me thirty years ago but then my sons bound up the hallway to knock on her door but then the cobblestones haven’t changed their shape but then familiarity wraps around me like gauze and I am home, if but for seven days
38 is trzydzieści osiem in my native tongue. It looks hard, menacing even, but looks can be deceiving because when I say it, the words sail off my tongue with such ease, like a trickle of cool water
Say it, try
Time is cordial and it kindly stops for me every time I return, the minute hand doing a little backwards dance and I walk down the main drag and by the end of the avenue, near the train station, I am seventeen again and craning my neck to spot a cute boy, my satchel loaded with Roxette & Eurythmics cassette tapes and spray cans of Fa deodorant, weaving my way through a crowd of men who smoke brown cigarettes and woman in sheer knee-highs and flowery skirts that trail the cobblestonesand then I remember I turn 38 tomorrow and I think, wait Time, are you cordial or are you just fucking with me…
of sleep isn’t much
It’s slightly shaky fingers as I pour milk into my coffee, almond milk which my husband is obsessed with
It tastes like soap, watered down detergent
Four hours is like I drank last but I didn’t except for a latte at midnight
I got home at 3:30am and read for a half hour despite myself, then my hands fell to my sides, Seating Arrangements to the floor
My dream involved Steve Buscemi telling me nice things with regards to my acting
The dog jumped on the bed at 8am as did the kids and there was no going back, not with a myriad of small cold feet flung gently but insistently in my face
I slept all night, said my 4 year old, proudly, because he’s like me - waking up for nightly jaunts to the toilet and for sips of tepid water
That’s so good, buddy
My eyelids closed, I swept his soles away but it was useless
So I am up, preparing for the day, which will bring many things, things we have planned for weeks now, things involving airplanes and arrivals
The things I still like
A cigarette on the trailer steps, hair in curlers people staring
What they shooting?
A TV show - a movie - nothing
If u have to ask then I guess I’m not
I like the costumes even though they never fit right, make me to aware of my growing waistline, colors I shun in real life but then I slip a dress on and it’s 1931 and here I am just like that - somebody else. Took me a long time to figure our we are not somebody else but just fragments of our hidden selves that come to light
I like crafty - oh those bowls and plastic cups filled with m&m’s mixed with pretzels and nougat and every kind of soda known to man. I like crafty but I tend to stay away unless the kids are visiting me and then we all go to town munching stuffing twizzlers in our pockets
I like the pocket of space just in front of the camera lens, scene meticulously painted recreated nailed down. A world in an alley up in Yonkers, lights in things that float around us like hot air balloons
I like hitting my mark without looking down
I like glancing at my sides - the scenes we will shoot - memorizing lines as the day goes on
I like remembering other things like Ireland and LA other steps other trailers big ones with queen size beds and tiny little airplane bathroom sized honey wagons
I like naps during lunchtime when lunchtime is at 2 in the morning
I like the actors who have been at it so long but who still love it and sure they are esteemed and revered but they never started on this road for the fame or nameless glory but because they just loved acting. That’s it. Those actors engage and smile and seem polite, like they are happy to be here. I learn from them, I absorb their effortless grateful demeanor. The other actors, usually the younger ones, come to set late carrying a chip on the shoulder and I want to hand them a slice of fucking humble pie. They are the amateurs and deep down they know it, celebrity status or not
I like the make-up girls with photos of their kids taped to the corners of the mirrors in the truck - I like their tips & little secrets - black liner inside upper eyelid they call it the tight line
The make-up girls are like priests and we confess everything going on in our lives
How are your boys?
Fine, Kal has a cold, fine, Kass did a backwards flip on the trampoline, fine, they still lift eyebrows when mama goes to work, usually it’s daddy in the White House on wheels making movie magic, fine
Because I used to do this a lot
I used to go on auditions with a pep in my step, another chance another shot to sell my wares to show them I was gonna be somebody someday and they’d be wise to take notice, oh how i wanted to show them what fun this was for me and how important
I used to wake up at 4am and pack my bag, reading material and make-up that went on before make-up and a pack of smokes and a wallet and nothing else besides a few dreams
And I looked at the crew like an army a hive, us inside the honeycomb busy bees everyone busy with their part and I loved the cog and wheels, the giant machine - so many names, so many PAs talking into headsets grips and gaffers and prop boys and we were all, all of us, making a story come to life
I still like those things
I like being done, I like wrapping we call it, pulling bobby pins out of my period hairstyle as I slip on my flip flops and head back downtown hurrying to make the last train back to jersey, happy, tired, because I was here and I did something
This is what I do. A kind of secret I’m letting you in on. I line my lips with a Nars rose tinted pencil, I pat my eyelids with fine Lorac powder, I dab a rosy MAC stain on my cheekbones - which are lost these days but then like magic they appear, blossom colored, vibrant, almost like they used to be. I do this and more - so much more - after I brush my teeth, before I go to the gym, when I need to run to CVS for toilet paper, as I walk toward the ocean shore. I do this all the time. I am that woman.
You look nice without that stuff, my husband says, none the wiser that even when I appear bare faced, I am not. It’s painstaking, the blending, smearing, patting, so that nothing shows, but it’s always there, a fine layer of dust and shimmer like a veil, shrouding me from the world because I don’t know how else to do it.
At ten, I stand in Woolworth’s and choose a 99 cent lipstick, because that’s all I’ve got, a dollar and twenty-five cents, for tax. It smells like moth balls and plastic and leaves my mouth dry and caked, but now the corral will catch their eye and not the sad state of my front teeth. I want Mood Lipsticks and Kissing Koolers, but they’re too expensive. I want Dial-A-Lash and Jane eyeshadows. I want the whole aisle. I dream of Maybelline.
At twelve, I run my fingers over my forehead and feel the bumps, like grains of sand, white and tiny, pimples sprinkled from temple to temple and I want to cry. I swipe my skin with a white sponge, now soaked with Max Factor Silk Perfection in Deep Beige, even though I’m miles away from anything beige. I paint my face trying not to look at it. I dream of Prescriptives. I dream of beauty you can’t buy at the supermarket, but I can’t afford it, just yet.
At seventeen, I run into the bathroom, my boyfriend still sleeping, and I trace my fingers under my eyes and I fumble for my jar of concealer. My hands shake. I smooth my mouth with a tiny slanted sponge until my lips glimmer with Cover Girl Outlast Antique Rose. I pick the clumps of mascara from my eyelashes, tearing out one or two in the process. I reapply. I spend my teenage years doing this; reapplying. I love my boyfriend but he is new and he has never seen my face unmasked. I envy the boys with acne scars in broad daylight because there is nothing on TV to tell them they should hide their flaws.
At twenty-one, Sephora changes my life. I can dawdle, my wrist a collage of colors and charcoal lines, my wrist stained for hours after. I am left to my devices, what will make me prettier better a painting come to life. I run into the store mid-auditions, after lunches, to freshen up, to try something I’d never buy like that forty five dollar Channel bronzer.
At 30, I am smart, sassy, outspoken, married, a new mom. I am better than make up but it’s an old habit and those don’t die, they can only dwindle if you look the other way, but I can’t. I am sleepless and sore from breast feeding, I am a walking zombie, but two coats of Great Lash calm me down.
I want to say make up brings me happiness, because it does. But I don’t know why I fucking need it so much. I don’t know why my purse is eternally weighed down by expensive compacts and cover up sticks and blush brushes. I don’t know why I can wear the same shirts for weeks and years but I buy new lip balms every few days and when I do I spend too much - do you want a basket, honey? - and I give away all my old shit to the babystter’s daughters and I am joyful as I unwrap the new stash, the beautiful cellophane tearing like transluscent skin.
My mother curled her lashes with a kitchen knife and that was it. There was nothing to pilfer from her pocketbook or bedroom nightstand. She showed her freckles as they were. She had pretty, mauve lips that never saw a purchased shade, not until I began buying and sharing. So where, then? Where does it come from - me at the vanity, expert now, at how to become flawless. It is a vestige of feeling hapless, worthless, less than, a foreigner. The one way to mesh in, to blend in, was by literally doing just that. By snapping my fingers and voila; a better version, a face like I dreamed of - perfect, pleasant, like an American sitcom.
At thirty-seven, I go to a beach house with my family. I pack my pink Marc Jacobs cosmetics bag, just golden sun-kissed colors, copper shimmers, plus Bobbi Brown eyebrow pencil, plus a base, just in case, plus three different face creams. But somehow I’ve forgotten the mascara. The mascara is crucial. It brings out the blue in my gray eyes, and helps me look awake. It’s not waterproof but that doesn’t matter. For three days, i tan and swim and play board games with the neighbors and laugh and eat burgers grilled to perfection, all the while hoping no one notices my eyelashes, which, without help, look like thinning whiskers. I ponder running out for groceries and stopping by a drugstore, anything will do, Rimmel, NYX, whatever. But I don’t. I tell myself i can do it. I tell myself i am a grown up, I am curvy and newly bronzed from midday rays, and I am fine. My hair smells like seasalt and Pantene. I don’t need make up. I am laying in the sand, on the water’s edge, and it doesn’t matter what my eyes look like. My husband loves me and he’s seen me worse. It’s ok.
We get back home and I go upstairs and find the shiny tubes, so many, Black Noir, Volume Pump, Smashbox Photo Op. I take a shower and wipe my face clean. And then I cover it all up.
I go downstairs to feed the dog.
i’m done with another one. here’s what i can tell you.
it’s about a woman named Clara Bottom who wakes up on her 40th birthday and cries under a banyan tree. it’s about the lies women tell because they have to, and the lies men tell because they want to.
it’s about a girl who turns to the saints for guidance, collects prayer cards like baseball cards. but then faith goes away.
it’s about mothers and daughters, mothers like shadows looming, growing and shriveling, daughters trying not to look back.
there’s a grade school reunion. there’s a happy marriage, or what seems like one.
it takes place in New Jersey and Florida and Jerome, Arizona.
i have a title. it’s a good one.
it’s my coming of middle age story.
i am typing this to say see here’s what i wrote, don’t go getting any ideas. because i love this one, i love this small story told in 124,458 words and i am ready to fight for it, wait for it to show itself. i’ve sent it to a couple of female friends - some writers some not, to see what they will say.
i am waiting, like one waits for the birth of something.
yesterday my husband turned 41. we spent the day managing trips to the animal hospital and puppy trainers and meetings with the pool guys. we are putting in a pool in our yard, and this seems like a culmination of my american dream. my husband blew out his candles and the boys helped. we ate chocolate ice cream cake and he got three pairs of slip on shoes. in poland there’s a saying - don’t give shoes as a gift unless you want the person to walk out of your life. but it’s silly now. there no danger of that. he’s ours :)
and happy birthday, america. america was a blank canvas at one point. it was color, more than anything. color TV, Times Square in high definition, rainbow faces - and the Poland we left behind, was gray, muted earth tones, bleak, but pulsating with a history that crumbled like the berlin wall.
today america is still opportunity, hope - to say and feel and live any way you want. sometimes this seems like a mockery, like a good plan gone awry, with the hobby lobby shit etc etc.
but i still believe.
i believe in my new book.
i believe in America.
i believe in the possibility of both, my feet on the ground, head in clouds, reaching, reaching.
i’ve been thinking without pause it seems, even when i am consciously trying to detach, playing trivia games or looking up mumblecore movies online
the weather doesn’t help and is verily fucking with my sense of time and place
i think about my dad and why we haven’t talked in weeks, both of us lazy, but aware of the silence. my dad once wrote me a letter describing a nightmare he had and i quote "i was walking home and i shit myself and i had to walk vey carefully so the shit wouldn’t run down my pants and i wanted to run but i was afraid. shit dreams mean money is coming which is good cause i have 15 dollars left and for the last two days i have been eating nothing but apples that i pick off my tree."
my dad should write a book
i think about my husband away, again, making motion pictures, sending me funny photos showing off his prosthetic stump hand, yeehaw. it’s a western, and he’s having fun which means he misses us terribly but is glad to have a job.
i think about my book, the new one, the almost written one, mired down now in my dumb/winding/lucid/needed revisions, still without a title which must be a clue as to why it’s not finished yet when i thought it already was. i want it to be so good i want it to be better, to maybe prove a point i was trying to make with the first one
i think about my sisters living their lives, too far way from me, but that somehow i am getting ok with that, with their otherness and distance and how all i want is for both of them to be happy and it’s dawning on me, all over again, that everyone has their own version of happy
i think about what my friend is going to name her twin baby girls and i find myself thumbing through books, mentally underlining names i like even though i’m not really on the committee but my friend is cool, she allows suggestions and is open to them, which is another reason why I love her
i think about when i was 17, i think about it like it happened yesterday.
i think about this article i read about first born daughters and how they have the ability to “be leaders of the world.” the article cited Beyonce and it made me wonder what it’s like to be Beyonce’s daughter and what it will be like to grown up in some sort of modern day magical kingdom
i think about going back to the gym, hi.
i think about the coming summer when my sons will celebrate another year of living kinda dangerously, and fully, so alive in everything they do, wiser, happier, curious, and more of a gentlemanly way about them
i think about our friend who passed away this week from a brain tumor because cancer sucks and is the worst in its’ unmerciful arbitrary attack. he was 44.
i think about how the world is as cruel as it is beautiful.