Thursday, September 12, 2013

A pictorial of a disingenue

Already picturing how he might need to play dead over and over again, Leana gauged Alec as the warranty for broken parts inside of herself since she couldn’t bring herself in for service.  Chronically forgetful Leana pictured it would be incontrovertible to recommend that Alec accept her claims that she determined his worth. Meanwhile, as usual she took her time on everything. 

Even as she reeked of cheap noxious perfume that emphasized diethyl phthalate with a resounding odor of hot plastic, the pheromones attracted only an unplanned rendez-vous with a blistered discount-driven bee that removed himself from the natural order for an uncomplicated high. Not all that seductive, unlike a signature opulent fragrance of basil flowers mixed with creamy plum and orchid overtones

Her moral sense gave her an authority to covet the last laugh to be felt by the most destructive in society, because they had justifiable reasons for destroying things and places people love. She took for granted many of the advantages life brought her. Still Alec found himself intrigued.

As a perceived victim of continual circumstance, Leana saw even the smallest matter as indistinguishable from the largest, because Alec hadn’t given her enough.  Her entitlement granted her treatment afforded kings and queens. In every situation, he was supposed to feed her need or die apologizing. He almost ended up dying apologizing, literally.

Alec, in her estimation was overly law-abiding. Not with it and unfamiliar with bending the rules. The self-appointed belle of spray paintable fashion, she figured that crime was a dialect that was easier to understand and her jealousy of his happy life constantly crept in. She saw herself as a sort of roguish demagogue. So she figured, it was up to her to find the loose bolts in the perfect picture and slant the frame a bit. 

Although many self-improved gangsters who chose to reform spent a lot less time underestimating everyone and more time exploring better times ahead and yearning to feel better, her love of gifting perpetual angst to people and deprivation rose from her splintered obedience to self-destruction. Hell bent as some would say and smelling, well, oblivious.

Alec worked as an IT professional, with a computer attached to his fingertips like a nail polish caught up in a false reality preordained for the soft part of the finger rather than the nail. Every code language he learned brought him closer to getting smart on internet security. He was schooled on all things cyber, a vestibule of sorts for everyone with computer issues. He’d been happily married to Adriana for three years, after they dated for a few years. 

They had met Leana sometime during the third year of their marriage. Leana downplayed the objectification of women in certain rap music that both Adriana and Alec found contrary to the types of images of women they found impressive. She thought women all over the world would feel liberated for being personified as hyper sexualized, disrespected and thuggishly sought-after. By all estimations, they both appreciated political rap that related more to societal struggles. Although Leana had recently addressed herself as dysfunctional and liked to laugh about it, Adriana found it a ploy for an undesirable situation.

Distance grew between Adriana and Leana. Leana had in mind that there was a potential that their marriage wouldn’t last. Leana was banking on the marriage’s failure secretly, like a subprime mortgage speculator hoping for homeowner failures. The failure of their marriage was Leana’s prime motivator. Only Adriana felt that saving her marriage wasn't going to become her every day challenge. 

Instead, she left it to her husband to deal with what she saw as Leana’s varying manipulations. Leana didn't like anything that interfered with her sense of entitlement. She labeled a right and respect for privacy and personal boundaries as cagey.

For Leana, a part time investment broker a happier life was refutable; the basis of happiness for her was an anchor that she imagined only came from fortune, not misfortune. Leana’s claims never were to be chiseled for fear of long term retributions. A state of deprivation encompassed her and led her to punish those who wanted to feel the benefits of positive motivations. A twisted reality of sorts built to rationalize. 

Eventually, Alec began to falter when he tried relentlessly to explain to her that while her statements about his wife might not be based on anything other than Leana’s own insolence, they weren’t collaborative to say the least. Adriana felt alienated. Leana felt good. Leana seemed to find Adriana’s adorable ways too endearing like when Adriana smiled and looked down when she felt overpoweringly compelled by Alec’s laughter or when Adriana latched onto a decision to install a new walkway to their home and ingrained herself into her new project. 

In fact, it was another example of how Leana enjoyed isolating people from friends and family. She always downplayed group efforts to get someone alone. Alec had recently begun to hate her, but knew it wasn’t the best response. Love was, but Leana toyed with Alec, even as he now realized that explaining himself to her needed to stop. Besides, he didn’t feel like it was love they shared, more camaraderie, but even still no salve existed for vindictiveness or made the fear of retribution fade away. 

Their lives had entangled through a mutual friend and quickly became a sorted and tattered sibling bond ensconced with dark overtones sharing an edginess that put others off, but that initially Alec enjoyed. They became sparring partners in crimes against kindness and good deeds, except if they were the beneficiaries.

Had it been her inability to embrace others’ dreams as being respectable? Had it been her hate for reconciliation? Had it been her fatalism? Her disdain for religion?  Her macabre video collection? Her demented way of changing her position on the simplest of things from one situation to another that confused him, as if she were mulling over a criminal’s motivations? Or her ever changing hair color streaks? Had she been the pool for his inner child’s ever suppressed distorting side that made him embrace her influence over him?

Formerly deeply serene Alec lost his famously meditative dark brown eyebrows in the fold of a real friend’s arm while fighting for his life. He couldn't answer any of these questions. Affectionately, Daniel desperately held Alec. Alec’s disheveled brown hair and his inelegant white t-shirt surfaced under his chin like a sob for worriless days. Daniel’s yoga body seemed frail at the moment, for the first time in years. 

Daniel hoped that Alec would once again open his eyes. He cried, grasping for air, and bereft, pictured all the future opportunities he and Alec may have shared disintegrate. Although Daniel never understood it, Alec without fail was drawn to the worrisome Leana and that which never emotionally satisfied him.

Essentially, Alec thought he could fix Leana and help set her on a more encouraging path. Now as tears fell from Daniel’s face, a roar in his mind made him wonder if he wasn’t screaming out loud at the top of his lungs. Might be.

Despondent, as Alec gripped Daniel, Daniel noticed that Alec was dressed as if there should be no care in the world. Except, Daniel feared that the love of getting people to squirm that Leana infused in him might fundamentally have indirectly led to Alec’s destruction, no matter how easy-going he looked.

It’s sufficient that as Alec fought for his life, Leana ran through his mind. All the while memories of Leana were faithful. Leana started most of her sentences with, “I only meant that…” or “All I said was…” tied in with her foot-dragging on any idea she didn’t propose. She exhausted people with her lack of emotional availability, her denials and her own constant calamity.  

She figured for all intents and purposes everything was inevitably going to involve a crime, so why develop a legal approach to life. Her deflection and downplaying others’ normal emotional needs in any relationship made her more obedient to her decision to avoid basic kindness and humanity than common decencies. As a psychologist might call it, she was an emotional hijacker, a crazymaker, a denier. As the general public said an emotional vampire, divesting every situation of any emotion other than what was ripe for predatory practice. Leana was divisive. 

Her romance with malice started as she first destroyed a neighbor’s home and watched as they sorted through the emotional web of pain and suffering at a distance. She felt absolutely no remorse, somehow the person needed to know what her state of emotional being felt like. If she had to suffer then they would have no weekend. A cycle of internal violence that bleeds from one to the next as a means to justify why we do each other harm or explain why there is pain in the world to begin with.  

By causing the pain, she controlled the situation. She feasted on schadenfreude as a way of life so that someone’s skin would get tougher. The quashing and deliberate reductions of individual ambitions were minimized by her angry assaults and lack of ingenuity. She abused her relationships, throwing Alec and others into a deliberate game of misplaced loyalties, misdirection and self-indulgence. She was undeniably unconquerable.

Alec’s hand rested so passively on Daniel that tunnel vision caused Daniel only to witness the limp arm as the ambulance pulled up.

Blatantly, Leana transformed holding a beautiful flower into a nonverbal behavior that provoked rage somehow by honing in on a portion of the flower to question if it truly was as beautiful in the eye of a beholder. Can flowers grow beautifully in factoried Newark? Insincerity fell from her tongue at every juncture as she bled anyone doing better than she was for actively contributing to her role as victim. 

She created an insensitive environment for her wrongdoer, always targeting people who she was desperate to manipulate and break down so that they too would learn how to play dead. They would eventually accept these terms she figured or die trying.

The object of her rage did not exist anymore in her mind; it was already fighting for air.  Her lack of reciprocal helpfulness for those who she wanted to bring down to her level included such silent wrath as stirring on something mundane in each conversation only to then find someone more interesting to talk to herself. She grudged. She passively ordained blame on whomever she deemed as taking things the wrong way. This lack of empathy worked for her only as far as those who felt obligated toward her denied themselves emotional fulfillment in her presence. Her shallowness ruled supreme.

Daniel’s moustache, beard and baldness were undetectable to Alec as he had become entangled into his arms, while Daniel suspected Alec’s wife had no idea of Alec’s current frail state. He suspected that Leana had somehow precipitately brought Alec into a situation that would test his fragility and let her cruelty shine. He just wasn't sure how yet.  

Leana always felt more sympathy for those who held the bigger stick because the intimidation factor quieted inner wills. Her oppressive laugh often cut through Daniel’s peace of mind and although her charm offensive seemed to assimilate with Alec’s need for calculations, Alec’s wife Adriana grew distant. Alec would have found Leana’s conscious femme fatality a force to reckon with and would have determined that he could temper her.

Alec lay in Daniel’s arms and Daniel had no idea how to reach Adriana.  Adriana had desperately tried to call a few hours earlier, but Alec’s phone had died.

Daniel helped put Alec into the ambulance. Once inside, he plugged in Alec’s phone hoping he might be able to reach Adriana. He called her. Panicked, Adriana answered. She asked Daniel if Alec was alright. He told her he and Alec were on their way to the hospital, and that he could barely breathe when he was found on Daniel’s front steps deeply bruised. He’d been left there to die. Seeking salvage, Adriana explained to Daniel that they had been the target of a massive con.

The police told Adriana that it was something very similar to the Tim Dog legendary rapper con job she read about in Vice. Tim Dog the rapper had allegedly faked his own death in February reporting that he had died of a seizure following a battle with diabetes. His criminal history of grand larceny forced him to pay a pretty high sum for restitution, almost $20 grand. However, the defrauded victim claimed that the death was faked to avoid the payment. CBS confirmed that the rapper released a new song this past summer titled “Falsified” featuring himself and another rapper singing about how he faked his own death and blamed others for conning everyone.

Police told Adriana that they were the target of a copycat situation, except that a few of the details were different. Someone had faked Alec’s death and had set up a Paypal account hooked up to their joint bank account.  The fraudulent extortionists claimed that donations for Alec’s three desperately abandoned and surviving children who supposedly lost their father to a blood disease that cost their family thousands in medical costs would prove too much to bear for the family of three and the widow. 

Thousands of dollars of donations started flooding in over the course of a week and neither Adriana nor Alec could explain what was happening, especially since they were actually still alive. They also didn’t have three children. They appeared to be involved in a fraud.

Alec couldn't explain what was happening and asked the bank to look into it. In the meantime, he had been trying to rein in his relationship with Leana only to find her suggesting that his IT skills weren't all they were cracked up to be. It seemed like reading between her lines started consuming his nightly thoughts and reflected poorly on his attention on his home and his usual exuberance for recreation.  Consumed, he began reading Leana’s emails to him and decided he needed to confront her with her fear.

However, Leana had other plans for Alec. She said she was too busy to meet for coffee, but mentioned she could meet him at his office a little after 4:30 pm to get him home on time for dinner. He agreed. He arrived five minutes early to park. 

As he locked the driver side door to his car, he felt like his kidney had made contact with a pole and briefly thinking he may have rammed into something accidentally, he turned his face exposing himself to punch after brutal punch. His nose cracked, his eye bled, his stomach seemed to be eating his breath without engaging his failing lungs. He imagined that his brain would lose functionality too soon. He saw his wallet and keys disappear and then everything went dark.

At the hospital, Adriana grabbed Daniel to hug him and thank him. The natural order felt subsumed by a veneer of fatality. 

Until Alec would awake from his coma a week later, no one would know anything about his failed meeting with Leana.  The donations had been withdrawn from the Paypal account. With fear of retribution grasping at his very being, Alec returned home silent, violated, tormented to a doting Adriana. Leana’s escape had been all the more imperceptible and yet no one except Alec would ever have the true history of what happened those extraordinary few months that led up to his being set up to almost die. 

Had there even been a warning? Or had Leana’s nefarious purposes mesmerized him into inviting extortion with one false move which in some inexplicable way led to his reality check that détente with a criminal was an unsolicited thaw? Playing dead, he saw it more as irreconcilable and blemished by his wishful thinking that his accommodating approach would thwart Leana in asserting her will to conduct her criminal tug of war. Like a book of lost fragrances, Leana rolled around in Alec’s mind like a lingering afterthought as he had evaded death although playing at it; with only the aspiration left of a wanting disciplined spirit on a journey of spiritual flagellation.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Peeking through the Window at Today’s Events in Ska or Pure Voice

Leda saw the familiar parking space in front of her house on Jasper Street, but the Ukrainian bilyj holos (literally ‘white voice’ or ‘pure voice’) singing emitting from her speakers preoccupied her. Introduced to bilyj holos, she played various recordings of it in her car on this occasion to nourish her curiosity about open throat singing. Bilyj holos emerged from peasants herding livestock who needed to make sure that their sound could travel long distances with no strain.

Like a fish trying to climb a tree, when Leda tried the style, she felt like she was singing punk or death metal and preferred it didn't travel far.

Village music exudes a spirit lacking in so many formulaic pop songs found on the radio. The song of bilyj holos is controlled screaming with close-knit harmonies. Field hollering essentially or maybe a variation of folk meets punk.

She remembered hearing recordings of bilyj holos in her childhood, but couldn't stand the style musically in her teens. As far as she could remember, no one provided her insight on their appeal among the Ukrainian elders she knew; rather they spoke more about the trendiest of Ukrainian singers. She could claim no direct familial tie given her closed wounded heart on behalf of family history that included the culmination of disruptiveness of war on her grandparents’ lives.

A bewildered Leda acknowledged that bilyj holos suddenly sounded enjoyable —just as edgy as the ska and funk that presided over her teens.

The private suffering found in the timbres and the raw, open throat tone composition perplexed her. Leda shook her heavy head to return to the moment. She parked in front. She was supposed to pull into her garage to charge her Nissan Leaf for tomorrow. The foggy day drank her concentration obliviously. She still had her jade and cream pencil wiggle dress on that made her feel great, but she was ready to relax. Still, the song’s melancholy seeped into her bones and tightened. Caught in a haze of a Ukrainian village only her grandmother may have ever intimately known, she turned the key to her second generation condo.  

Did this feel like home? Suddenly, she didn't really think so; even Jasper Street memories weren’t strong enough to keep this nagging feeling down. She felt overwhelmed by a deep longing inside that crept to the apex of her throat threatening to keep an eye on her, not for the sake of keeping her composed, but to permit her to unleash. The longing wasn't satisfied anymore by Ukrainian Christmas dinners every year that she learned from her grandmother’s recipes and adapted to include a small piece of her own spirit.

Her neighbor Claudia stood out front of her condo directly across the street from Leda and appeared completely miffed that Leda didn't wave. Claudia was about to walk across the street to hand Leda the edited minutes for the next condo board meeting, but she hesitated. Leda had ignored her. Oh, for heaven’s sake.

Mentally, Leda compared her ska rocking days momentarily to her grandmother’s experience in a rural village during the onset of war. Her grandmother survived an interrupted life, but she never could regain the knowledge that she would have gained living there. Subsequently, her escape recovered some possibilities in America. Leda reflected on her attraction in her teens to ska and funk turbulently inlayed into the fret board of her academic and social life. Ska and funk paraded itself as more available to stirring a kind of social change that politicians and governments seemed incapable of generating than did bilyj holos.

Were the every day occurrences that were being explored in such Ukrainian traditional music and counterculture music in DC similar? Or were these songs similar in style as controlled screaming as sung scars cut from the same neglected vulnerable skin tissue, but offered in a different sensibility that provided community catharsis?  

She sat down on her couch, convinced that her new-found appreciation converged with her reaction to the decadent 80’s.  For the past month, not feeling like herself, Leda felt like something needed to change, nonplussed by the boredom of suburban echoes.

In the decadent 80’s, Leda tacitly expressed herself through every black laced dress and hushed ankle length tight skirt. When she wore torn jeans, she figured the holes might add to Tipper Gore’s list of items worthy of a warning sticker. Except to Leda those delectable surprises inside a song wouldn't be surprises with a warning sticker, so they killed the rush that came from the surprise. 

Was the warning sticker campaign to increase consumer information in the marketplace the real endgame? Why not give fans a little credit to handle the flood of uncoded images? Did the jeans come with the holes? Leda wore the jeans out without making fake holes, so that might confuse Tipper.

Sitting on the couch, a stray brown hair ruined the look of Leda’s pencil wiggle dress. She strummed it off. 

“Was the need to increase consumer information in the marketplace really about explicit lyrics—those hidden succulent pleasures?  Was it similar to the push to label foods going on today,” thought Leda. It wasn’t similar, she figured, because who invited a lab coat to produce food that cultures have enjoyed making since the dawn of time through the use of their own cultural methods and practices? Who asked a lab scientist to trample cultural symbolic references to natural growth? A labcoater was willing to seize all the culture and spirit out of every culture and substitute it with lab grown food. What Ukrainian Christmas dinner menu should now ignore the food culture of our predecessors and be made from fingered and needled food in a lab?

Somehow the mystery of modern gardening—natural, smaller and moving beyond the unbridled wastefulness of the industrial revolution—seemed defiled by these monodominant notions.

Claudia still stood on her front stoop wondering when she should come over to Leda’s condo to share her important minutes and the date for the next meeting.

Leda preferred to get lost in her memories lately, slumped in her Leaf where she often found herself parking and reparking to properly parallel park. How could anyone on the condo board bear it if her front possibly balding tire wasn't exactly an inch and a half from the curb?  Any neighborhood cat hanging out beside the condo meeting room windows would see that Leda sat quietly at the meetings, more often than not. Leda might even prefer feeding the cat, given the choice.

Normally, she tossed her keys on the film noire entryway table. She still held them in her left hand. Not feeling like myself, thought Leda.  She grabbed a CD  to listen to some music, maybe shake the bilyj holos. Bjork or They Must Be Giants, Garbage or the new indie band her friend sent her on Twitter, GoodBye Lenin.

She clicked on GoodBye Lenin and wanted a Vox amp.  As she let her mind wander, it was almost like she was holding the same classic B-side 45 of Fishbone in her hand she held after returning from the 9:30 club in DC. She wished for that exhausted feeling she always felt after dancing in a mosh pit the night before.

The night Leda saw Fishbone at the 9:30 Club, it was June 1987 right before the Beastie Boys hit the stage. During the concert, her brain animated and she felt unity, wondering nothing about Ukrainian recordings of bilyj holos, but shouting Fishbone lyrics within a crowd, just the same. She participated in a feast of chemistry that ran through the club that was simultaneously enlivening, reckless and loudly calming.

Ah, Fishbone! Party at Ground Zero. Similar emotions coursed through her veins right now, as skulking outrage over the news of the day circled her mind. Molly Ivins said, “What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority."

In recent years, every day, Leda read about drones in the skies with a debate brewing weighing the appropriate levels of reliance on them along with fading civil liberties. At the moment, there was no one to run into and bump into repeatedly. There was no good reason to run through the room straight-leg kicking a ghost a few feet in front of herself like a pretend soccer ball around the room, one kick after another. She used to mosh with feeling.

A ska-listening Leda, sometimes, to show her personality with layers of manically applied shirts, would exhibit opposing lines of stitching only to be sure there was no way to detect a clean line. Often she wanted to be seen like someone might perceive a random series of apostrophes, periods and semicolons – jumbled without the letters these marks meant to punctuate. She would dress this way on days when she felt cluttered and chaotic, so as to send a signal that captured her current state of mind. In ways, her choices served as a personal fashion equivalent to flag semaphore exhibited onto the runway of her fleet of thoughts. 

Now, she was expected to act like other people on the condo board and roll with the emotion, maybe brush it away, maybe go for a short run, or maybe sing in her car at the top of her lungs. She was supposed to consider the news of the day simply outside of her reality, as one of her overly contrived neighbors might suggest. She wondered if a Ukrainian village expected everyone in the village to act the same and bury their emotions. 

The news of the day the year she moshed while Fishbone performed Party at Ground Zero involved nuclear scare tactics. Maybe nuclear scare tactics were something a reader of a newspaper could read and follow up with a crossword puzzle hoping to score some trivia pursuit points from the latest news.

Conversely, for Leda and her friends who watched the Party at Ground Zero music video and saw the guy pull off his mask only to bring about a nuclear explosion, the gravitational pull was toward the mosh pit  Not acceptance or blind faith that it would all be alright. The mosh pit made more sense than a pursuit of trivia.

In the mosh pit  Leda experienced an immediate remedy when her body imported adrenaline from glands to boost her supply of oxygen. She could breathe.  Leda and her friends needed a place to vent and to react to the crazy world and all of its dangers.  The music made them think. At the same time, they vented in a way that didn't involve yelling at a loved one in verbal circles.  She gained awareness of the human experience through weekly circles in a mosh pit.

Although the last seconds of GoodBye Lenin drowned out Leda’s humming of Party at Ground Zero, she opened her eyes like a firefly still lighting up in a kid’s plastic cup, illuminated by the thought of a ska mosh pit  She realized something. She realized that she wished that she had written Fishbone’s lyrics. She remembered reveling in their reactive expression and understood them, but she never thought to take a chance and react herself about every day life. She’d played it safe.

Likewise, she had never sung a Ukrainian song in public, only in her head or in limited company. Did her grandmother ever try her voice at bilyj holos? Had she also lived as a spectator and learned how to express herself in other ways for fear of persecution? Her grandmother was a great cook, but had she ever hollered in the fields as the news of global ethnic tensions reached her?  Was she too highbrow?

On the sunny-side down side of the egg, nothing in the news seemed to bother Claudia, but gossip could keep her restless for hours every day. She turned a deaf ear equally to the rising cost of gas and to the neglect and contempt society cast on science. Despite her detachment, she would talk endlessly about her recent exploits as a troublemaker but her problem solving skills lay dormant. Last week, she shoved herself firmly between her sister and nephew Joseph as she took on his problems. Out of the fire and into the frying pan, Leda entertained the possibility of a bilyj holos song about Claudia’s gossiping.

Claudia gleaned what she needed from everyone, but managed to be busy if one of the neighbors needed a hand. She had even taken out her bad mood on a neighbor parked in her spot, never once considering it was uncharacteristic.  Unluckily, the neighbors had had an even thornier day after their home flooded from a frozen burst pipe forcing them to move that day. Even after Leda informed her of the reason days later, neighborly Claudia couldn't be bothered.

A massive storm warning had been broadcast earlier that afternoon and neither Claudia nor Leda knew about it for very different reasons.  The sky filled with cumulonimbus clouds. It’s possible that Leda might notice the lightening when it arrives, but she might also be deep inside of herself desperately trying to sew up wounds from being homesick for her roots. Claudia might still be obsessing about her nephew.

It’s worth sharing Claudia’s troublemaking masked as problem solving with her nephew Joseph. “I tell you Leda, last year Joseph was really into architecture. He hasn't been into it lately. I figure something must be going on.  So, I called him after I had spent weeks reading every Architectural Digest I could get my hands on and talked his ear off.  He must have complained to his mom, because Nancy calls me, she actually calls me, and asks me what I think I’m doing interfering. I told her it wasn't any of her business. She said it was, and now I figure that he’s not going to be very useful to me in my hobby. I mean I need to pick his brain.”

Claudia dissected cluelessly every person like a dehumanizing prying mantra in the weakening lights of suburban boredom sung by a chorus of busy bodies and meddlers the likes of which Mark Twain personified in Widow Douglas in Huck Finn. Huck fled from the constantly meddling Widow Douglas who couldn't stop telling him what to do rather than prepare him to develop his own conscience and social compass. Claudia emotionally blackmailed her way into people’s lives by acting like she had a right to paint people into a corner only to blame her suffering on them, as if her life depended on it. But reacting to the news? Never.  

As Claudia walked across the street, she evaluated her disapproval of how Leda came home. She saw Leda not park her car exactly as it should have been only an inch and a half away from the curb.  There must have been even an angle to the car, because it seemed to be sticking out a few inches more near the trunk! Anything unusual irked Claudia. The idea that Leda might change anything visible to Claudia, without Claudia’s approval muddled Claudia’s feeling of entitlement. She looked at her house every day so obviously she had to have a say. Claudia demonstrated recurrently how conformity arranged itself onto a foggy day like a dark cloud.

“What was that,” thought Claudia, reacting to a new noise emerging from Leda’s home. This is not American culture, she felt. America does not have noisy neighborhoods blasting music out of condos. Condos are for quiet respectable types! Claudia ran across the street and looked closer at Leda’s window. Was Leda dancing? Was that even dancing, thought Claudia.

Leda danced to her Fishbone album in broad daylight in her own living room. She used her bilyj holos technique to belt out Party at Ground Zero. She experienced revival. Her grandmother or other Ukrainian villagers may have sung in fields, but they also wanted their sound to travel. To whose ears?  To the deaf ones, that they secretly resented?  She was tired of fail-safe definitions surrounding how to convey one’s thinking.

Like a traveler learning how to discriminate between what may or may not fit into one’s ideas of self assembly, Leda never fully integrated into the Ukrainian traditional subculture in her teen years or even as an adult. She had somewhat rebelled against it, in fact, since it often felt insular. Her life was not an app that she could download and learn how to stage-manage as she answered her own questions. In her search, she’d run into other Ukrainian-Americans who were also borrowing some of the traditions they learned, while appreciating the underground pop counterculture that reacted to the social and political issues of the day. 

Claudia wasn't privy to Leda’s soul searching, especially since Claudia in response would have volunteered Leda her definition of what an American was and it wouldn't have included a hyphen. It would represent only trucks, barbecues  Fourth of July, baseball, Honey Boo Boo, giant discount chains and fewer immigrants. It wouldn't include any of the greatest accomplishments in various fields of study and the many immigrants who helped shape it.  It wouldn't include the intersections of all the cultural exchanges that happen here every day that involve people from many different religious and cultural backgrounds in an extremely diverse population that feels lurked upon by narrow-minded representations of America. It wouldn't represent the attempts of crossing cultural divides. It would feel like a coloring book that was by design difficult if not impossible to draw outside the lines.  

Leda wasn't sure if she wanted her days in the mosh pits back, but she did want to feel that same feeling among peers. Leda felt empty when she saw someone substitute virtues with endless pastimes and time fillers. She wanted desperately to feel the same feeling she had felt in a mosh pit where communally they raised their social and political awareness and tried to release their energy collectively. 

And not as a cross-purpose, she also sought to better understand what Ukrainian was supposed to feel like.  As Leda danced to Fishbone, she wondered if in her child’s mind she would ever have imagined that she would mosh pit to Fishbone and learn something.

Leda continued to dance to Fishbone.  It’s possible that Leda might realize in a few minutes that she wasn't actually reacting to the lyrics. Listening to a band like Fishbone that stayed on top of social and political issues of the time and reacted through music made sense.  Claudia did not make sense.

Her grandmother likely sang bilyj holos songs rarely. She appreciated them, because Leda remembered her playing them after watching TV soap operas. A question popped into Leda’s mind. Bilyj holos songs originated in everyday life as subjects in individual songs. It’s possible her grandmother never voiced her own opinion about current events outside of certain suitable topics, considered Leda

Leda threw her eyes open and sang louder. Time to change the song, she thought. As Leda ran to her cd player, she heard a knock on the door.  She considered ignoring it.  She didn't  It was Claudia, mouth gaping open with a look of terrible dismay. Leda felt immediately judged and anticipated some form of third degree. Would she drop hints, or would she address Leda straightforwardly, wondered Leda. She considered preempting Claudia with some ghastly news, but didn't.

 Claudia handed the minutes to Leda, while mentally sizing her up. If asked, she’d deny appraising her like she might a dirty rag. Leda still wore her jade and cream pencil wiggle dress, but looked as disheveled as a creek bank after a storm.  The color in her cheeks warranted Claudia’s first remark.

“You’re horribly red faced Leda! It isn't from the jazzercise video I lent you, is it,” said Claudia in a hushed voice.

“No. Good to see you Claudia. How are you? Hope things are well.”

“Well, the music on the jazzercise video is clever. Terry put it on there. She’s so avant garde!,” said Claudia. By the time she mentioned Terry’s name, her voice was at a normal speaking level. “What were you listening to?” 

“Not anything very avant garde, I suppose.”

“Anyway, here are the minutes for the condo board meeting next Wednesday. I've got my eye on you, great things I see…saw…I mean see, well, you know I should explain…I was considering having you chair the next meeting, for practice you know. I've come to realize I’m tired of hearing myself talk. But now…well, I can’t really say, I’m not sure why, but I’m wondering, maybe you've got other interests I suppose,” said Claudia, back in her hushed voice. Claudia didn't look Leda in the face until she said ‘maybe.’

Claudia’s snide comments usually made Leda chuckle inside as she noticed that her pretensions seemed to drip from her lips like the social utility of hacker humor.

Leda raised her eyebrows at Claudia and said, “You’re kidding right? Are you in a roundabout way saying that my choice of music to dance to is influencing whether I can chair or not? I don’t remember that being part of the board’s purview.”

This was the first time Leda ever confronted Claudia, since Leda wasn't a confrontational person. Claudia shared on many occasions how happy she was about confronting neighbors on personal issues, although she always shied away from letting anyone call it a personal attack, per se, since she used a hushed voice when she did it.

Claudia retorted quickly, “Leda, you know that people who listen to certain types of music are more prone to being violent and angry and not very, well, mannered. You know I don’t even call rap music, it’s just ranting and I’m afraid of it, you know, what does it mean?  I mean, well, of course, it’s just not been done before to have anyone on the board who, well listens to that sort of music that makes a person act wild and who knows what! What will people say walking down the street when someone on the board is seen dancing wildly from the window by anyone just passing by?  What a terrible impression!  I mean imagine what I would have to do, if say, I had to warn anyone at the meeting about well, you know….,” Claudia laughed and seemed to be making an appeal with her facial expression for Leda to accept that she agreed with being more reasonable.

Leda, emboldened by her mood and her outrage, told Claudia, “No, what do you mean? On second thought, forget it. I of course shouldn't have to consider how to warn other people that you snoop in people’s windows and that’s what all your friends on the board authorized you to do.” Now completely mocking Claudia, “I mean see, well, you know I should explain…I might, for practice you know, propose a code of conduct at the next meeting, just to keep YOU in line. But, maybe you've got other interests, I suppose.”

Claudia asked, “What has gotten into you Leda?”

Leda said, “I’m tired of you manipulating me, when we could really make some good board decisions to improve our neighborhood and stop this micromanaging. Especially, when you’re standing here snooping in my windows and then blackmailing me based on what you saw me doing in the privacy of my own home! Of course, maybe you didn't look in the window, right Claudia?” Claudia turned a redder shade of red than Leda had when she answered the door.

Leda ripped the minutes in half, told Claudia she would talk to the other board members without her supervision in the near future. Leda put on her best fake smile and asked Claudia to step a few steps back on the walkway, because she wanted to show her something. Claudia perked up, figuring that Leda might just have had a tantrum, but would return to her easier-to-push-around self in a minute.

In a state of shock mixed with wishful thinking, Claudia stepped out of the condo alongside of Leda.  Leda stalled for a moment, pointed at the door, smiled and went back inside, leaving Claudia staring at the door. It wasn't night time yet, but Claudia stood quietly, for the first time in a long time, and couldn't mess with Leda, for the first time in a long time.

Leda belted out her best bilyj holos and ran for the keys she left on the couch.  She threw on some casual clothing and headed outside to her Leaf. A wave of bilyj holos enveloped her and her cultural awakening seemed to be navigating her further and further away from Jasper Street. She took streets she had never driven, and she still didn't notice the darkened sky. She vented like she once used to in a mosh pit, but once again, it seemed like silent lucidity.

Leda felt like she needed to get out of the car, turn her outrage beyond her mini mosh pit. Where was the glory in driving into a storm and feeling alone with her emotions? Who hears a tree fall in the forest? 

The sky suddenly wouldn't go unnoticed. Like the bilyj holos of lightening, thunder shifted carbohydrates from carbon dioxide without the aid of photosynthetic organisms. Leda might survive the weather, but she wasn't going to ignore her cultural awakening. 

She drove down a narrow road for miles navigated by her intuition. She cried, and she felt alone except for the company of the bilyj holos. The heavy raindrops looped her windshield in groups. More lightening rose out the side windows like tall index fingers in front of the skies’ temporarily closed lips. The sky paused to consider remaining silent.

A loud bang interrupted Leda’s belting.  The rain poured and she continued driving in a neighborhood that became incrementally more rural. Consumed by her cultural awakening, Leda almost missed a sign that was obstructed by the intense thunderstorm rain. She couldn't believe her eyes as she passed it.  The smell of rain moshed against the air vents. The letters on the sign were in Cyrillic. She found a dirt driveway to turn around. 

‘Семінар на диких їстівних рослин!’ Translated, it read, ‘a seminar on wild edible plants.’ Could it be? She drove down the path. She saw more signs in Ukrainian. ‘трав'яні консультації.’ (herbal consultation) She felt like she was going to burst!  She parked, approached the door and knocked. A Ukrainian looking woman in her 60s answered the door. 

Leda introduced herself and asked, “Do you speak in Ukrainian?”

The woman at the door said she did in fact speak in Ukrainian. She introduced herself as Olena. She welcomed Leda inside and asked her how she found her. Leda said it was all by chance, but that she was driving to clear her mind and saw the surprising signs on the road written in Ukrainian.

            “I was listening to bilyj holos recordings and hollering in the car when I saw your sign. Olena explained that she and her daughters perform occasionally interweaving bilyj holos folk songs into their performances. Leda felt momentarily sad.

            Olena added, “And at times we perform community concerts with others who show an interest in performing.  There is a revival of sorts as a reaction to the mono-culture that is being promoted. We are cultural reference-friendly, kind of like cat-friendly, no need to reference a bad action flick just to have SOMETHING in common.”

            Leda perked up.  No guts, no glory and although she loved supporting musicians, she stepped up to the plate and asked to participate next time there was an opportunity. Olena told her it would be next Wednesday. How opportune, thought Leda. It fell on the same day as the board meeting.

            Olena explained that she had moved to Ridky Mountain Road only ten years ago from western Ukraine, and was from a family of herbalists, wood crafters and fiber artists in the Carpathians. They taught her their techniques. She had spent a portion of her life uninterested in these techniques, and realized she enjoyed continuing and modernizing the practices. Leda told her that she had recently realized how few traditions she really knew and was very interested in learning them.  They spoke only shortly about the disruptiveness of war on previous generations.

            Leda confessed that she hadn't always been interested in Ukrainian traditions, until recently. She had spent her teens in mosh pits instead. Had it been wasted time, she wondered out loud? She waited to see if Olena would judge her.  Olena didn't judge her or reduce her ska years to a mistake or regret.  On the contrary, Olena told Leda that several of her friends back in Ukraine played in ska and funk bands and still enjoyed some of the customs and traditions, sometimes combining them. 

            Leda said, “It’s wonderful to get to a place where Fishbone, or ska in Ukraine, and an appreciation of our heritage and customs are not mutually exclusive. It feels good to fuse them.”

            Olena laughed, “Хвилює, що думають інші люди, і ви завжди будете у них в в'язень.” (Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.)

Leda said she had often had difficulty being true to herself, in particular when she could see what others wanted from her. Sometimes, she stayed nice instead of speaking up. Now she had become very well aware of why people spend a lot of time telling you not to synthesize the world around you and speak your mind. 

On Wednesday during the rehearsal, Leda silently thanked herself for not oversimplifying her exposure to different types of music and forms of expression and for embracing who she had become in living an examined life. She brought lyrics of her own to Olena’s that were based on everyday life.  After learning some harmonies to traditional Ukrainian bilyj holos verses, she shared them.

Reclaiming her voice, Leda sang her lyrics in bilyj holos first in Ukrainian, then in English. She pushed against the pain of separation from deep roots, as she detached from what didn't feel like home, and what didn't feel right:

I stand on the porch and I read the news
I synthesize it and do something about this or lose.
I can't just sigh and say it is out of my hands,
Because if I did, then I would just be drawing lines in shifting sands.
So dearest Claudia, good luck -
I hope that when something bigger matters you don’t duck.
The feelings you postpone are true
To move you to do. To move you to do.

            Leda no longer moved in a circle, like she used to when she moshed. She stood in one spot, sang, and felt the end of a cycle that threatened to define her, rather than compel her to come up with a definition of herself on her own.

Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. - Albert Camus

The END. 
May 18, 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shaping Dejection to Look Like a Delicious Fruit

     If Belinda Crest had a guardian angel, which likely she did, since who doesn’t, her name was likely Eris, since Eris was the goddess of chaos.

     A very dissimilar guardian angel guarded Ryan Splinter.  Her name was Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, the center of home and family, where home was a place to always feel right in place, rather than out of place in this world. She kept herself above the fray avoiding all fights.  Admirers of Greek mythology recognize Hestia as the originator of the concept of the sanctuary.  She represents the center of home, architecture, and domesticity, and the living flame serves as her living symbol associated with stability and permanence.  The living flame of Hestia was tended to constantly and forbidden to die out. The Olympic torch originally honored Hestia.

     Customarily, Belinda enjoyed dancing around people.  Not physically. Belinda danced alone far from other dancers, enjoying the feel of waving her arms and not having to worry about possibly hitting an arm or waist.  Black hair the color of an open garage in the distance traced her tiny shoulders that measured the width of a muddy dry river wash.  While some were unsuspecting, she left a trail of allies who gradually resisted sharing anything personal with her and tapered their expectation of trust and intimacy. Their retrenchment came as she danced around people's dreams and strengths deliberately, temporarily stifling her intention to manipulate what she heard of their hearts’ outpouring of shattered dreams, rebuilt purpose and teased-out latent deflation.

     Divulging always yielded a rickety conversational foundation for the dreamer looking for an empathetic ear, similar to suddenly facing an echoing neglected valley sunken deeply into a wet mesa perpetually sucking deeper into a final wine scarlet abyss that could paralyze. Belinda extracted from articulated dreams a series of words that had been expelled out of a mouth speaking to her like fungible puzzle pieces whose shapes and order could be rearranged any number of ways and therefore diminished. Pursued dreams served as clay for Belinda to unreservedly mold into distorted debris, where she presumed an unbridled birthright to create a tone of unease for the dreamer, steeped in a tint of a murky artifice.  Occasionally, she quashed the possibilities and hopes outright, predictably calling on the speaker to rationalize their desires and distinguishing what they considered a dream as a flawed fantasy.

     She rarely considered how valuable a moment of shared intentions was to a dreamer, or how committed they might be to live out their dreams. Maybe she figured dreamers shouldn’t shield themselves from hecklers. As if she were a stand-up satirical comedy writer with no concerns of giving credit, she perceived these revelations as if they were looming material to her for building conversations during forthcoming weeks possibly months, but immaterial to her regardless.  Who cares what she wove?

     After her boyfriend stepped up the first stair to her house—in various stages of disrepair—Belinda knew she had to tell him about the amazing furniture she was thinking of buying.  Predictably, she was not reluctant to hide her inclination to be brazenly unscrupulous and consciously buy low quality, made possible by cheap labor.  All of this talk about conscious consumption in the world today, to support manufacturers who made products keeping in mind their social and environmental responsibility seemed to fall on deaf ears. She loved to see people scratch their heads seeing that she blew them off.

     Absurdly, Belinda loved her boyfriend, the headstrong furniture designer named Ryan, whose guardian angel was Hestia and who also worked out of Nashville.  He stood at the center of Belinda's fantasy built hastily to fit her perception of a woodsman, a man with splinters in his fingers that could fix anything except with no thought to his materials. She rarely complimented him for his talents as a salesman. Rather, she spent a good portion of their time alone expressing fondness for how the quality of furniture of a competitor Joe Ply spoke for itself. Belinda rarely spent more than $25 to $75 for any piece of furniture; often wearing her thrift like a soldier of fortune might an exultant badge, as if to say hers was the type of mercenary work that served to split a seam in any heart’s desire for a room with complementary originals, absent of replicas.

     Hers was not a pattern of living that involved much contemplation or cohesion, but needed to fit a stenciled life that, according to her reputation, should prevent the surfacing or potential of surfacing of preference differences.  Similar taste in furniture took one's own interests out of the list of criteria considered in decision making and reduced it to a quick duty. Why think so much?

     To Belinda, who wore shirts that extended beyond her hips and unshapely pants, she shaped vocalized dejection to look like a delicious fruit. This illusory promising fruit if it could grow would grow on a tree that her victim grasped at, while precariously trapped in an instant sinkhole on trembling feet that only moments earlier seemed solidly planted in an opportunistic landscape. She used her clothing to show how little she cared about presentation. Establishing this in all circumstances, afforded a way to represent her attitude that convenience was first and she could have that ill-fitting conversation that browbeat you into at least nodding in forced acquiescence about the pathetic side of vanity. If a dreamer felt bad about matching their clothes that morning, instantaneously there was a little more to circumvent in terms of one’s own sense of self-assurance and the attempt at keeping up the illusion of indifference. Of course, who does rely on someone else for their happiness?

     Often, the feeling she left someone with made them imagine that if the land inverted, the underground might provide them a safer supportive place free from the scrutiny of Belinda, and more to the point, from her projected insecurities.

     With varied alacrity and at wide-ranging lengths—maybe days or months or years— she projected her own insecurities onto those she claimed to love.  Nonetheless, she embraced unreservedly the ideas of strangers who toiled at their work. This performance, gave her the chance to reveal stranger’s ideas as she might a treasured sword, held between her and those she professed to adore. Owing to each glance at their confusion, she witnessed that with every word, with every neglected opportunity to provide a good word at their own efforts in their profession, with every reverence for a stranger, she built more grounds for estrangement than intimacy.

     Ultimately, Belinda achieved her intended outcome and created her preferred conditions, pushing people away so she could whirl around all alone ready to use her jagged fruit on the next victim of her brand of love. She always delivered her sting before she shared another torrent of misgivings.  Then, she'd ever so slightly reveal a warped smile.

     In conversation with Ryan and often anywhere she could blurt it out, Belinda would boast of the cheap prices she found, with one exception. Joe. Joe to Belinda did everything that Ryan considered as his own personal goals or ambitions or some might call enviable traits.  In actuality, Ryan achieved it in the eyes of many who disliked Joe’s mass market approach using cheap wood substitute products, but these qualities remained unmentioned by Belinda, who boasted of Joe’s flourishing traits all the while holding out on complimenting Ryan. She recognized that he liked feedback, but she intentionally withheld it. Besides, she had never bought a thing from Joe.

     Compelled by her bad romance tendencies, Belinda lay claim to her own personal whipping post in Ryan, who seemed hard pressed to understand how Belinda’s love reconciled with his list of desirable personality traits and conduct in relating to people you love. In the eye of his beholder, he was destined to a love that framed him into turmoil of unending uncertainty as to where his skills stood.

     Without fail, on any given day that Belinda set eyes on Ryan, the impression she left was never straightforward, but usually implied his personality and talents needed a taste test of a chaotic kind. Ryan’s guardian angel Hestia rebuffed him at times for not finding a feeling for home that harmonized with the domestic knack he showed in his furniture craftsmanship.  Beyond his relationship with Belinda, his attention to detail made Hestia guard him even more tenderly, as her hopes for him were answered. Hestia is as a matter of course revered as the goddess of spring-cleaning and adores those who create a certain feeling of sanctuary.

     When Ryan reupholstered client Diane Reninskaya’s couch, he tended it with the care reserved for baby skin, selecting the fabric that best soothed.  He asked Diane to really consider what colors relaxed her and what brought her contentment. Then, she saw the couch and she was relieved that she would no longer have to endure the philosophy that her father Gregory had about furniture.  Gregory’s anxiety about being at home translated to hard chairs, broken closet doors, and a dismissive attitude showed in his unmatched pattern of decorating. Diane never knew the difference until she stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast and, soon after, hired Ryan to help her develop a style. It proved to be therapeutic and rewarding.

     Ryan felt when Belinda was going to situate him at a disadvantage, always violating the terms of any good relationship that holds mutual benefit as a central tenet.  In spite of Ryan’s best efforts to get her to open her mind, she rejected developing her own style. Or was her rejection a style of its own?

     Belinda habitually professed her love to Ryan and determined that by turning him into a full-fledged member of her island of broken toys, she could find what he needed most and deny it. Her love was presented on the condition that Joe’s light cast a shadow on Ryan that would potentially leave Ryan as unsure of his sensibility for a high quality ambiance as Belinda. Belinda essentially designed to bring him to her level.

     “If Joe’s furniture speaks for itself, Belinda,” said Ryan, “then you prefer sawdust. It’s like saying you prefer the heel of a loaf of bread just to sound sacrificial.”

     Ryan stood at the top of the stairs on Belinda’s balcony. She tried to once again find a way to dance around his perspective, ready to plant a new seed of doubt for Ryan to chew on like a sunflower seed.  Belinda loved to see Ryan squirm.  It was her way of relating to him, and she could never be honest with herself about being powerless in halting the hurt she offered to those she loved and her awful insensitivity to their emotional needs.

     “Plywood is not sawdust, otherwise it would all fall apart. Furniture that speaks for itself needs little mind reading, needs very few answers, few descriptions, raises few questions, is practical, simple and fits into tight spaces. It’s not decadent or gives the impression of a fad that this too will come and go. It’s no frills and doesn’t pretend to be from Europe.” An invisible Joe loomed in the air as if flying close to Hestia and Eris, and as ever present to the two of them.

     Belinda seemed suddenly to have channeled a cheap car salesman, triggering Ryan to rub his eyes, just in case by rubbing, the artifice might vaporize.  Hestia, his guardian angel, unaccommodatingly pulled a hair from the back of his neck in her first and only act of providing discomfort with the intention to expel him out of this moment promptly.

     Ryan realized he was at a point of their relationship where Belinda's presumption of being the only patron to please was getting under his skin.  He flirted with the idea of saying, she must be in a different target market. Instead, ready to end her spiteful hold on his mind, he said, “I build custom designs that often represent the personal interests of people who contact me, you know that. If you want to decorate your place with cheap crap you can buy on standardized shelves that are ordinary, do it, but don’t keep insinuating their presidential status to my designs.” Belinda’s love affair for mass production was starting to be easier to peal away since the albatross around his neck, like all albatrosses, cannot extend what they have learned beyond the context they learned it in. In this case, this albatross learned how to make a meal out of his neck and would likely go hungry when released back into the wild.

     Ryan felt Belinda scheming. Before she continued, he knew he had to say it, “Belinda, I feel you judge my designs creating a comparison to Joe, only because you may be forced to look at your own buying habits and that mirror is too hard to look into. Instead, you dismiss my dreams to show me the hill and try to make me envious rather than provide me the sense of a creative space. Separately, you have to accentuate that cheap alternatives somehow make my custom work a pretension only afforded by those who won’t sacrifice style, and that somehow you are willing to make that sacrifice, rubbing it in my face, as if you hope that I will capitulate.” Immediately, Ryan felt air on his neck since it was now once again bare.

     Continuing to attempt to shape Ryan’s views of the furniture world, Belinda spitefully declared that most people buy cheaper furniture, because they can’t afford nicer stuff. She took this broad view despite knowing that Ryan often repurposed woods from vacant barns and that many people do try to make mindful purchases. On numerous occasions, she saw him restore furniture to construct second hand furnishings with a new appearance affordably.

     Taking his chair off her front porch, the only one he made for her based on her specifications, Ryan said, “Well, this chair would suit my best friend and he’s got a bare porch. I’ll make some modifications.” The last thing that Belinda heard from Ryan was, “I got a few heads to turn, and I won’t be using press board.” Hestia looked back for him divining a hope that someday Eris’ influence on Belinda might wear off and a good spring cleaning might ensue.  Neither Hestia nor Ryan was going to stick around to find out, but Eris held the albatross and stared at Belinda afterwards wondering how next to provide her with another innocent to engage her reactive approach to connecting.  Eris saw Ryan almost trip on a splintered stair in spite of the fact that he reveled in the bite he took from his apple.
(c) March 2013
short story by Maria Lewytzkyj-Milligan