Anatomy of Tea

It is the fake kind. Not black, not even green. Herbal. Fake. She is a tea snob, and though I am not, her definitions have sunk into me, etched into my skin. The current skin. If the past is any indication, it’ll flake off eventually. Before too long.

She tells me that she just wants to be friends. She and her boyfriend are looking for a third party, if the spinning rumor mill wheel is to be believed. Why don’t they pick me? What’s wrong with me?

When we watch the sky together on the roof, she tells me she can’t see any stars. They’re everywhere, I tell her, and she says she can’t see them. I look at her, and her eyes are shut. This is the kind of shit she does.

The teacup in my hand is only cardboard. White, with a brown sleeve, it gave under the hot water and I thought it was going to collapse into my hand and burn me. But it held up in the end, sturdier than it looks. She always says she’s not vulnerable, that she doesn’t get hurt so easily. She says her eyes just get wet sometimes, that she hasn’t cried in years, that I’m projecting.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I didn’t grow a new skin last time.

Photo credit: Lars Kristian Flem

Ginger and lemon taste like nothing else in the world. Nothing tastes like anything else, though, so I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be a compliment. When I told her she tasted like herself, unique, she rolled her eyes at me and I could tell she’d been hoping for me to come up with something less cliche, less used up. I tried to tell her how I felt, though, and she couldn’t stand to hear it. What else was I supposed to do, then? Cliches are a great trampoline to fall onto, they make you bounce up again.

The man with the gray hair who’s always hanging around her is just a friend, she says. But this is where her boyfriend and I agree: she should stop having friends who sell her cocaine for the price of a blowjob. I’m not sure who I want to punch more, the dealer or her boyfriend. Maybe they’ll take each other out for me, leave the field clear.

The night she touched my skin without prompting on my part wasn’t delirious. It was pretty underwhelming, in the end. Maybe that’s because I was expecting more than a drunk bear hug. She’s not so attractive when she’s sloppy. I guess I’m more shallow than I thought I was.

My skin is itching. I break out in hives every time someone says hashtag in order to emphasize their commentary on the world. It’s cold. Hashtag. She’s such a bitch. Hashtag. Love you, babes. Hashtag.

Hotels are really depressing when you’re there alone. Nothing is complementary anymore. The minibar is an invitation to expensive sinning, but even the water and coffee have little price marks on them. You don’t get anything for free, she always tells me this, but I never listen. It’s funny, though, because I don’t have faith in people either. I guess I have faith in corporations.

Corporations are people too. Her parents raised her conservative. She explains how she can believe in bad economic practices and in women’s right to choose not to have abortions, and I wonder how we haven’t stopped talking yet. I don’t take this kind of shit from anyone. I don’t think I can be friends with her.

I don’t want to be friends with her.

I never wanted to be, though. Some things you don’t really get a choice in.

When her boyfriend dumps her, she comes over to my house and asks if I have tea. I tell her I do, regular tea, Lipton. She picks up the back of a chair and slams it down. She yells at me that Lipton isn’t real tea. Haven’t I learned anything? She says I’m useless and leaves. I see her already pulling her cellphone out of her back pocket. She’ll call the grey haired man and end up in a skeezy motel with him.

I have another business trip to make. She still hasn’t called me back.

My suits are getting wrinkled. I need to pack better. I need to get a new skin. I need to get some new taste buds. I need to learn to discriminate in my tea choices. Maybe I should be a colonist, a racist, find somewhere new where tea is conquered. Then she’ll really like me.

Quickie #4 – Don’t Nurture It

Don’t look at the lips. Focus on the eyes. Eyes are family and friendship as well as love. Eyes are ambiguous. Ignore the wedding ring, even when he twists it round and round his finger while he talks to you. It’s a nervous tic, it has nothing to do with you. Don’t overthink it. Don’t take the word “intimidation” as a flirtatious device. Don’t see it as anything other than fatherly admiration. Than belief in you.
Don’t look at his lips. Don’t think about his body beneath his clothing and how different it may look from the bodies of boys you’ve loved. Don’t compare it to your father’s ravaged body, shorn and torn by illness. Ask about his kids. Remind yourself of his kids.
Don’t think about your disbelief in morality. Don’t think about life being short. Don’t look at his lips.

Oh, Please Believe [Flash Fiction]

When Mother forbade me from going into her office, I was, of course, determined to go in there. I should have respected her privacy. I didn’t have the excuse of being a curious, nosy seven year-old anymore. I was married, thirty-two, and had a child of my own. But I was going through a bad divorce and I was living with her for the first time in over a decade, and I didn’t like the idea of not being allowed to go somewhere in the place that I once called home so naturally.

Mother and Father had moved into the house in the 60s, before I was born, and they never left. After I was five or so, Father stopped leaving for good. He was too heavy to go out much past the garden when I was a toddler, and by the time I was skipped up into first grade, he was only able to stand for a few minutes at a time and poke his head out the kitchen window to wave at me. I loved him for it, at the time. It took me a few years before I really understood how shameful it was to have a father who stayed inside all the time. I was proud of him, then, because I could boast of how often he played with me.

Our games were simple ones. I hid, and shouted out for me, moving from one easy chair to another, heaving and puffing. His sweat smelled of talcum powder. He was fastidiously clean. He was shy of his big underarm stains, even though I knew them so well that I used to put my forehead under them in the summer, when I was hot, and cool myself off. I would giggle and he would blush. He loved me, I think, even though he died before he ever really told me so. He didn’t talk very much. Most of his communication was accomplished through his eyes, which crinkled at the sides like his his favorite potato chip brand.

Mother talked too much, and when he died, she let him out of the house only long enough to be cremated. Then he was back, and she carried him around in a jar with her. She talked to him, and to me, sometimes getting us confused. It made me angry at him. I didn’t like being confused with a pewter jar full of dust. I peeked inside once, even though she told me not to, so I knew that he wasn’t in there really, despite what she always said.

Now, at thirty-two, I knew better. She hadn’t lied to me. I just hadn’t understood that my father wasn’t sitting in that jar like a genie in a bottle. A comforting thought, especially because the environment would have suited him – he wouldn’t have to move very much at all – but one that at my age I knew was stupid. I should have trusted her this time when she told me not to go into the study. I should have learned from past mistakes. I should have realized that I’d only be disappointed.

I waited until she went to her quilting class. She never carried Father around with her anymore. She’d bought a lot of new clothes and gone back to work when I started high school. She was better. That’s what she always said. Better. Like Father had made her sick. Maybe he did.

I made sure that Jonah was sleeping. Ever since leaving his father, he’d been sleeping badly, prone to nightmares. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get as much custody over him as I wanted, because I knew that he loved his dad and that it would be cruel to him – not to his dad – to separate them completely. I couldn’t hurt Jonah, even though I wanted to knife his father with a set of scalpels.

Opening the door to the study, I already knew that I was making a mistake. It wasn’t dramatic. It was anticlimactic. I really should have expected it when Mother had “thrown” Father’s favorite chair away, the last of the old possessions in the house, a few years ago. Of course, there it was, right there. I leaned on the door frame and sighed, disappointed. I was expecting a family of bears, or maybe some secret lover hidden away there. But a chair? An old chair.

The worst bit of it all was trying to figure out why Mother needed to hide from me that she’d ever loved Father. I didn’t understand it. I closed the door, decided never to ask, and ran to Jonah who had started crying, waking up out of a nightmare.

An Open Letter to Yael Bartana

Dear Yael,

I am an Israeli-American. I was born in Los Angeles, live in Givatayim, go to university in New York but will be studying in England next year.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I am part of two worlds – I have two homes and no home, two countries and no country. This is a kind of internal enigma that I haven’t yet gotten around to exploring yet – the seeds of what I want to do with this puzzling idea are still revolving in my mind, floating in some sort of wind. Hopefully they will find some fertile ground and grow there one day.

Today, I was stunned. My mother and I went to see your exhibition at the Helena Rubinstein in Tel Aviv. I took three Manifesto posters in each language so that I’d be able to give some away to people I love. The ideas that you represented – and the way you represented them – were so beautiful, so thought-provoking, and so intensely personal to someone who has lived here most of her life and felt both aliened and forcibly integrated. During the films, I was constantly thinking, wondering, trying to figure out the future that I was seeing in the foreshadowing clues that were in the barbed wire, the spotlight, the arm-band, the assassination. But I also yearned so dearly to hope, to be among my generation – the candle-lighters, the optimists, the naive, the third generation who are furthest from the past traumas but still, somehow, touched by them.

I wanted to go to Hebron after I left those rooms, posters clutched tightly furled under my arm – I didn’t have a rubber band – and find the first Palestinian youth who would trust me and ask him to take my hand. We would go and buy two tickets to Poland. We’d call our families and friends once we got there. Maybe if he escaped from his ghost town and I escaped from this country that ignores its ghosts, we’d be able to show others, as you did, that the possibility was real. How naive. But what a wonderful wish.

I have written to authors before. I’ve never written to an artist before. I hope that, if you do read this, my respect and admiration for you comes through my words. You have inspired something within me – the flame of anger always burning towards this country, but also the drops of innocence and hope that try to dampen that fire. Most of all, you’ve awoken my imagination and my thought, and for that I must thank you from the bottom of my heart. A work of art has not touched me so in a long, long time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

Ilana

__________

Yael Bartana is the creator of “And Europe Will be Stunned” which premiered at the Venice Biennale.

Camp NaNoWriMo!

So, as promised, here’s my new project – another novel. Sort of.

Last summer, I finished a novel that I’d worked on with Brian Morton, who is an incredible author who teaches at my school. It is extremely first-draft-y. June is going to be my month to write a second draft.
True, it’s not a completely new novel that I’m writing utterly from scratch, and perhaps the men and women at Camp NaNoWriMo would object that I’m not quite following the rules, but honestly? I don’t think they would. Because the point is to write, to work on your writing and commit yourself to it for a month. And gosh darn it, that’s what I’m doing.

I’m currently reading the novel that I wrote. It’s a strange experience. I’ve tried to do it a few times before, but I never could. It made me cringe, or it bored me. But now, now that I am actually in the process of preparing to edit it, I’m able to do it. Or maybe I just needed to wait for nine months to be able to deal with it. Writing a book in a month is possible – but rewriting it takes a bit of cool down time.

There is so much I’m going to change. So much that simply makes no sense to me. I have the characters so firmly set in my mind, and have had them there for the past year and a half, that I can’t understand how I wrote some of what I did. One character, for instance, is painfully shy in my head, but in the novel as it stands, she is an RA at her college. This is absolutely ridiculous – she would never sign up to such a job. True, she’s become less painfully shy than she once was and she has friends, but her retraction from others is still her default state. Why on earth did I make her a bubbly RA in some scenes? Strange, indeed.

I’m excited about this coming month’s project, even though I will also be working, once again, at Hebrew Book Week (third year in a row!) and as a result will be stressed between June 6 and 18 (yes, it’s much longer than a week, I am aware).

Just to be clear – I am still going to complete the 50,000 words in a month part of Camp NaNoWriMo. And I’m so excited about this whole editing business, that I’m going to actually ask you all to sponsor me! The Office of Letters and Light are a wonderful nonprofit that organize NaNoWriMo and thus help more people to overcome their fear of writing, and, even better, they organize writing programs for children in some 2700 schools around the Unites States.
Here’s the link where you can donate, if you’d like. No pressure! You can donate as little or as much as you like, or not at all. If you do, though, and would like to be kept abreast of my writing, let me know! Here’s the link to my fundraising page:

http://slightlyignorant.stayclassy.org

Hugs

It was the day that he hugged her that he realized that she was in love with him. He’d just finished a gig, and he was sweating, still in the suit he always wore on stage. She ran up to him, smiling, her shoulders hunched forward and inward a little bit because of her lifetime of insecurity and the several years of painful shyness that she’d recently gotten over. She was nice, and he was glad that he’d met her. But when she hugged him, he felt her body melt into his and the embrace was perfect, comfortable, warming. There wasn’t anything suggestive in it, nothing sexual. But it was sensual, and that was worse. It was the sheer warmth and feeling in the embrace that made him realize that things had taken a turn down an alleyway that he wasn’t sure he was ready to enter into.
He wasn’t scared of love, nor was he scared of relationships. He did relationships well, and he’d always been thankful of that, especially when he saw his band members fall prey to their own effed up desires and needs that ended up only hurting them and everyone around them. He’d never been in the same band for more than two years, and every time the bands broke up, or fell apart as was usually the case, it was almost always triggered by one of the members having relationship issues. Of course, the underlying causes were deeper – drinking problems, drug addictions, depressions, inability to deal with the stress of constant touring and little or no money. But the immediate cause had always been a bad girlfriend or boyfriend, a lover posing an ultimatum, or a blowout fight that invited the neighbors to call the police.
He didn’t know why he hugged her the second time. They stood outside, smoking together, and he was glad that she’d come to see the show, like she said she would, even though she’d known that it would be the same set as the show they played two weeks ago, when she’d first seen him. They talked about innocuous things, like movies made by his favorite playwright and the place she’d grown up in. He told her about how he’d heard once that Disney had planned to build a theme park on the moon and call it LunarDisney. She’d told him about the way she knew her parents had done drugs in the 70s. There was nothing too personal in the conversation, nothing telling. She didn’t laugh at the things he said and he didn’t lean forward and tough her all the time. But at some point, almost out of the blue, he leaned forward and hugged her a second time, and the words “I’m glad I met you” seemed to hover between them, almost-but-not-quite-spoken by either or both of them.
He didn’t mean to lead her on and he was determined not to do so. After all, he was leaving soon, moving to another city, and she wasn’t even finished with college yet and wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. They were going to be leading different lives and they both knew it. But she was in love with him, even though she hardly knew him, and while he wasn’t in love with her, he did feel a closeness that he didn’t know the origins of.
He worried that he would hurt her, especially after that second hug. They finished their cigarettes and discussed what each of them would be doing that night. Neither one suggested that they spend the night together, but he felt a vivid image tugging at his mind in which they woke up together and he smiled at her, knowing that she didn’t mind that his teeth were crooked and that she thought his smile was nice despite them.
She didn’t have any such visions. She didn’t even think he remembered her outside of their brief meetings. That was alright, because love, for her, wasn’t what it was for him. She loved many people, all at once, and felt deeply towards them all. She believed that people were good, and that there was something beautiful in everyone. She was naive in some ways, even though she’d been hurt enough in her life to know better. But she wasn’t expecting anything of him, not of him, and although she sometimes succumbed to wish fulfillment and painted an abstract in which the swirls of color represented her and another whom she loved, she still never verbally expressed that love to anyone.
They didn’t hug when they parted. They bade each other good night, and went their separate ways.

I Lost, But –

I submitted a story to a contest. I didn’t win. I didn’t get a notable mention. For a few seconds, I felt as if I would never write again. Then I thought that I should change my aspirations for the future. A few minutes later, having climbed into bed and curled up in my black-covered duvet, I felt a little better and just decided to never share my writing with anyone ever again.
When I woke up from my nap, I stopped being ridiculous.
I may not be good enough to win a fiction contest to which only some dozens of people have entered stories. Alright. But two published authors who have taught me have told me that I will get published. That is exhibit A. Exhibit B is the fact that I’m on a forty-five day streak on the website 750words.com – meaning I haven’t missed even one day in the last month and a half of writing three-pages-worth of words. Sure, some days I had to cheat and write parts of essays or schoolwork within that blank white space, but it was still my original writing in there.
Exhibit C is the discover I made a couple months ago – my mental and emotional state deteriorate when I don’t write for a while. I doubted this at first, but it can’t be a coincedance that I started to feel more on top of things once I began to write fiction again. Exhibit D is that people have been reading my blog for months or years now and have seen my writing develop and improve. Exhibit E is the fact that sometimes, once in a while, on a rare day, even I think that I’m a decent writer.
So. Okay. I didn’t win the contest. Maybe the story wasn’t good enough. Maybe others were just much better. Maybe it wasn’t my time, as one of my friends put it. Whatever the reason, I’m not going to give up. I’m only twenty-one, for goodness’ sake. I’m only just finishing up my sophomore year of college. I’m going to freaking Oxford next year.
Anyway, haven’t I known the reality of my choices for years? When I was in second grade, I began to develop the ambition of becoming an actress. I nourished, cherished and worked at my ambition for years. When my father became ill and I retreated from the world to stay at home with him and my mother, I lost my confidence in acting and the mere idea of being in public in such a vulnerable position stopped being even remotely appealing. Instead, I developed my love of writing, a far more private endeavor that nevertheless connects me to people in its own way.
But the point is that since I was about seven years old, my parents warned me that going for a career in an art would be a long, hard slog. They told me that I may not make much or even any money and they reminded me that there are a lot of talented people out there. They didn’t say this to discourage me – they simply wanted me to be aware of the realities of the world. So my seven year old self began to be aware of the fact that I shouldn’t take my future employment for granted.
For fourteen years I’ve been aware that I may work at some sort of drudge-job that I don’t enjoy or that isn’t “ambitious” (whatever that means) in order to support myself while trying to work at what I love. I’ve decided recently that I’m going to get a bar-tending certificate after I finish college; I want to try working night shifts, and I want to be exposed to people, their stories and their lives in a way that few people get to be as fully as bartenders do.
My grandpa wanted me to be a doctor. When I took care of my father while he was sick, he reinforced the idea that I would make an amazing doctor. You know what? I would. I would make a wonderful doctor. I would be empathic and caring, personable and kind.
But I don’t want to be a doctor, and my not wanting to be one would, ultimately, make me hate my job – and that would probably affect my work eventually. I want to be an author. There. I said it. An AUTHOR. I already am a writer, and will be for the rest of my life if it depends on me. But I also want to be an author. I don’t know if I will be. But I’m going to try my damnedest.