Monthly Archives: July 2011

holding hands

Kazakh_2004-08-05_Almaty_001Maybe this is what happened with Guka and me (reference to a previous post). On several occasions, I said more than she was comfortable with, and we lost respect for each other because of it. I know I disappointed her when I didn’t like Almaty. When I kept one foot in Bukhara during my visit. I tried, but Almaty is a very Soviet city (Russians call it Alma-Ata) infused with new oil money. It is what it is. It certainly wasn’t her.

But what happened with Guka is not the point. For years, I’ve wanted to explain something that happened there, when we went hiking in the mountains outside Almaty with a group of her friends. I’m not sure how many creative people feel this way, but I have so many photos sitting waiting to be edited and seen, so many stories unwritten, that I feel in some way I can’t move on creatively until they are tended. It makes me apprehensive. Apprehensive about jumping into more, though of course I have. Though in that, too, something feels unresolved, unworked through, unseen. Something I’ve wanted to process has been ignored.

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_008And so, in February of 2009, I began to go through 100s of old CDs full of digital photos. I love to clean, organize, and get rid of things (you don’t? Call me). I organized them down to a few DVDs, then decided to send off all my negs and chromes to India to be scanned. This I documented closely, as it was an endeavor. (It’s archived in the scancafe category.) When I got them back, I started archiving and tagging them in Lightrooom. It was amazing, cathartic, and tedious as hell. I also started uploading selects to Flickr, so they can be viewed.

Why? To make them conscious. So I know what’s there. Some of those images are printed. Most of them sit in archival boxes. Many are not, particularly the chromes. They are all but impossible to look at. So, I had them scanned. Why scan 7,000 old photos? So I know what’s there. And so others can see them if they desire. So they don’t sit in boxes in the back of my mind, like stories untold.

So finally, two and a half years later, I am uploading the 2004 selects to flickr. I will shut up, sit down, and finally write the story about that day at Chimbulak. Even though in words, it seems like nothing.

Chimbulak is a ski resort outside Almaty in the Tien Shan Mountains. We went there in the August for a hike and some fresh air. There were eight of us. It was an easy hike, but we were all at different levels, and two were kids. About half way to the top, at the base of the ski lift, the Soviet-built, terrifyingly-rickety ski lift, there was a resort where we stopped for lunch and some liquid courage (vodka). It was typical Russian fare. I enjoyed myself. We laughed and had fun.

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_067After the lift was a short climb. It wasn’t difficult, but we’d had plenty of vodka and were soon tired, but we pushed on. As we neared the top, we did something I’ve never seen in my years of hiking. Something Americans would never do. We linked hands. It wasn’t unusual to them in the least. We held hands and helped each other up the rest of the mountain. To the stubbornly independent American, it seemed not only strange, but not that helpful.

But it was. Even if you were toward the top of the chain, doing most of the work, the linking woke us up and brought us together. The last bit of the hike though the clouds was easy, coming together as one.

As we did this, my thoughts went, “What are you doing? That’s silly. This will impede everyone. What the hell? Keep your mouth shut. You are a guest here. Wait. Wait. How strange. This is nice. I’m being pulled, gently. I’m gently pulling. We are helping each other, and we are lighter, and faster, and efficient.”

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_112Nevermind that Guka wouldn’t take my hand.

It was not the way I was used to, but it worked. Magically. And with that realization, it hit me just how different Kazakh, and Central Asian, culture is. Yes, of course I knew it, understood it conceptually. But before this, I didn’t feel it or understand it on a cellular level. I didn’t feel it to be true. I just knew it intellectually.

And perhaps this seems simple, or obvious, or like nothing, but after fifteen years of foreign travel, I finally truly understood how some cultures rely on each other much more intrinsically than we do in the U.S. We frown up on it here, to the point that so many people are alienated and alone, with no idea how to truly connect to another person. We are afraid it means we are needy or weak, or will be trapped in some sort of needy abyss (ours or another’s). But it doesn’t mean any of this.

At the top, we sprawled out in the grass for a rest.

 

To see all the photos from the day at Chimbulak, go to flickr.

We don’t really go that far into other people, even when we think we do. We hardly ever go in and bring them out. We just stand at the jaws of the cave, and strike a match, and quickly ask if anybody’s there.    ~Martin Amis

 

a pagan, an indian, and a bukharan-ashkenaz russian walk

Wisdom is about seeking truth whether or not the seeker himself is vindicated or comforted by the unveiling of that truth. This desire to know—even if some knowledge is highly uncomfortable—is what makes the quest for wisdom so courageous and challenging.   ~Ethan Nichtern

Moscow_1990-03_016Where’d I leave off? Danchik? Old friends? Yes. There.

Spending the week with Georgie, okay, sorry, George. He prefers George. Not Gumby, Gum, Gumshoe, Jorge (he’s now a prof of spanish literature, though he got the nickname in HS), Georgie, or any other of the nicknames he acquired over the years. Simply George, like his dad.

After spending the week with George, and Danchik the weekend before, I realize that old friendships both comfort and confine.

I met George when we were 8 years old. I remember when I first saw him, a very tall Indian boy at his locker about 10 up from mine. He was looking down, adjusting his books. For the next ten years we were in the same classes, because kids in Ohio who can read and add all get schooled in a room together, to learn things like cursive writing and long division. We were a small group.

George gave me my first book on Buddhism when we were twelve, though he’s a Malayali Catholic, and was offended when I thought that his family had converted from Hinduism (I was twelve, okay?). “My people have been Catholic 1500 years longer than yours, you pagan!” he yelled, referring to Lithuania’s hold on paganism long past any other nation in Europe.

Mexico_1996-05_Oaxaca_006Fair enough.

So, we have a history. We’ve known each other a long time. He knows my family, and I know his. And yes, maybe he planted a spiritual seed back when I was a diehard pre-teen atheist. Maybe.

This is lovely and comfortable. But it’s also limiting. Not entirely, but George still sees me the way he did when we were eight. Or at least thirteen. Some of his attitudes toward me don’t reflect the person I am now, but who I was. And George knew me during some difficult times, when I was just trying my best to be tough and get through it all. I’m no longer a guarded, highly-protected teenage hardass. But because this is what he expects of me, part of me slides back and gives it to him. Because it’s familiar and comfortable, and because we are old friends.

Likewise, my ideas about him are probably outdated, too.

D's MuralThis isn’t a statement about George, but about people and relationship. George is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know. And frankly, these are the most difficult people to be with, because when I’m grumpy or I’m being an ass, there’s no excuse. It’s not because he’s selfish or mean. It’s because I am grumpy or being an ass. And that’s not easy to own. Usually, I have plenty of targets worthy of the projection. Haha.

And so it is with Danchik. We go back ten years. Long enough. Danchik has very different ideas about me than George, and while I do think he’s seen me change over the years, his ideas are still his ideas. Recently, we were chatting about his old friend Katya, about her recent relationships. I asked him what happened and he said, “What happened? She kirtiklised him! That’s what happened.” We both had a good laugh.

Meanwhile, our 12-year-old friend Pasha, who doesn’t know much English, said (in Russian): “What did she do? What is kirtiklised him? What does this mean?”

There’s no chance I will tell you.

Danchik and I laughed harder and Danchik said, “Molodetz!” which means, loosely, “clever boy,” or “well done.”

It was funny. But it speaks to Danchik’s ideas about me. They aren’t invalid, but they are fossilized. I don’t think he’s interested in seeing who I am past his ideas of me, which, granted, we spent a fair amount of time building up. In good ways, and bad.

NewYork_2008-06_summer_002It’s easier to see and perpetuate this with friends I don’t see all the time, so my ideas about them, and projections on them, aren’t challenged. Friends I see often grow along with me. As I fumble along, they challenge me to stay real, and to remember exactly what that means. It’s easy to forget. Or, to find it too hard, and seek distraction. George and Danchik keep me in line in their own way. Otherwise I’d have dumped them. Or they’d have dumped me. I’m hard to take, really, as I have no patience for those who run in bright-fast circles to numb the pain of their existence, full force against a second’s rest to actually face themselves. Once I see a person’s bullshit and she admits to no interest in facing it, I lose respect. Perhaps worse, I’m bored. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut over the years, at least a little bit, but I don’t stick around and watch the cycle perpetuate. They seem cowardly. Or average. Or boring.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~Albert Einstein

I thought it was “Stupidity: doing the same thing…” but I’ll take insanity, too.

Wisdom is about seeking truth whether or not the seeker himself is vindicated or comforted by the unveiling of that truth. This desire to knoweven if some knowledge is highly uncomfortableis what makes the quest for wisdom so courageous and challenging.
~Ethan Nichtern

finally there

1aug8-04This feels like a pivotal moment. I feel raw. I have always had my fingers in too many pots, and at this moment they are coming together, if only a little bit and in a symbolic way. I’m finally there. I’ve finally reached August 8, 2004 in the archives (representative photo at left), which was a big day in my life, one I’ve intended to write about for seven years. I mention it once in awhile because it has much to do with my understanding of people and life. I’m not sure I can explain it, so I keep putting it off.

I got here, to the eighth, the day my beautiful new computer arrived, so gorgeous I cannot believe it. So these photos will not be edited between crashes of my six-year old macbook, which slowed me down tremendously. I started editing the Center Kenes photos this morning. And now I’m there.

The writing and editing is also difficult because it involves Guka. Our friendship began to unravel during this trip, and we were already tense. Maybe that partly inspired my little revelation about humanity and relationship, but it’s still painful.

And my old friend left today. He was my houseguest for a week and a total gentleman. I’m easily annoyed, especially with people in my space, and he didn’t disturb me a bit. I loved having him. Largely because I felt appreciated and supported. His timing was perfect.

But now I am sad. Left to sink into my melancholy a bit, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve been thinking about old friendships, I guess because I’ve been seeing old friends. I tried to write about Danchik last week, after he (and Pasha, picture below) entertained me through a rough spot one Sunday at Coney, way out west where the beach is decent. But I’m not sure I can explain our relationship, either. He breaks a lot of rules as far as not being an ass goes. But he owns up to it totally, doesn’t pretend to be otherwise, and at the end of the day, he’s there for me. (I wouldn’t tell him that though. He’d be annoyed.) This is more than I can say for most people. People who pretend to be good or talk a nice game around it, but aren’t there when the going gets difficult. For a day.

NewYork_2011-01_CellSnaps_073Whatever “good” means.

So, I accept Danchik for who he is. He makes me laugh and takes me out of myself. He can be a jerk, and he knows it.

He went to Odessa last weekend to chase some girl. That will not have a happy ending, but it will be fun for a time, and that’s all the depth some people can muster. And that’s fine.

If you’re honest.

Well, there. I wrote a bit about Danchik. I didn’t include the hard-to-explain stuff, the quintessentially Danchik stuff. His declaration that he keeps a beautiful-but-boring girl around he doesn’t much like because sometimes you just need some company, a pretty face. “I am an asshole. She is an idiot. What can you do?”

Oh dear.

But, as you see, he’s honest. Most people do this sort of thing, in one way or another, but they don’t admit it. And so start the problems.

I’ve not gotten to August 8th. Or to old friendships. Why they feel comfortable, but also confining. Perhaps I’ll be as prolific tomorrow.

spectrum of light

NewYork_2011-07-13_CellSnapsLast Wednesday, on the train to yoga at 6-something a.m., there was a guy standing in the doorway wearing a colorful tie-dye shirt. I thought it was an old school Lithuanian basketball shirt, but I haven’t seen one in years. I squinted to read the lettering, and indeed, it said, “LITHUANIA.

I smiled. Very auspicious. My word, those shirts are about twenty years old now. When I got off, I said to the guy, “I like your shirt.”

He said, “What?” then, “Thanks,” with a smile. His accent was francophone West African, which made me smile back.

George told me the other day that Z is Nadia’s (his niece) favorite basketball player. Or was when she was two, and still lived in Cleveland. “She would say on the phone, ‘I am sad because Z is sad. The Cavs lost.’ Where is he from, anyway?” George asked.

Žydrūnas Ilgauskas? Georgie!! He’s Lithuanian!” George has listened to my mother telling him how closely related Lithuanian and Hindi are since we were 10.

“Ohhhh. Well, I don’t think I even knew his whole name. I just knew Z.”

I see. Still, that Nadia has good taste in ball players.

That night, walking across 17th Street, we ducked into the Rubin to avoid a crazy storm. When it passed, we headed on toward Curry Hill for dosa. By the time we reached Sixth Ave, a gorgeous rainbow spread across the sky.

So many colors, morning til night. What a lovely town.

state of the nation

NewYork_2011-05-15_StAugFerry_027

Anyway. Every summer feels like a big round tent. I inhabit it and simmer inside. Fourth of July is the central axis. My favorite holiday because it’s a nothing day. People don’t alter their lives to celebrate it: they celebrate it with and through whatever life they’ve got going. They satisfice. The ways we “make do” say everything about the real life we’re living.”  —OvO

The title and photo (taken on a ferry in St. Augustine, FL while visiting LD in May) don’t quite match Owl’s quote here. You have to read her post to get it all. It comes together there. Exxon. And the real life we’re living. I, for the moment, have nothing to say. Nothing I can say.