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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

after post truth

I pulled the white table from the balcony. It was covered with greasy soot, the stuff that drifts in the windows every day here. After a few soapy passes, it gleamed wet in the afternoon light. My favorite pen, an almost-empty notebook, a cup of good coffee, they rested there. I sat down to write something new on the first day of the year.

The plan was to write a piece of non-fiction, to take an event from my life, a terrifying one, the kind that breeds nightmares and get it down on paper. But these thoughts kept creeping up my arms as I worked. There is no difference between a truth and a lie these days. There are truths and then there are alternate truths. Narratives are controlled. And these narratives - they all pretend to be the truth.

My pen rests on the page. It has grown dark and I decide to light a plate full of these cheap candles from Ikea. Corny, romantic, and they smell of sweet cinnamon but I light them all the same. I cannot stop thinking that our world has fallen apart and we are all in denial. It ruptured some time ago, and we could not embrace that. Our old ideas of war and peace, they mean nothing now. In our age, we can be at war without soldiers on the ground. We can tell ourselves that our little corner of the world is at peace as long as we watch the screens, pat ourselves on the back and say "whew, we dodged those bullets" and breathe sighs of relief, when in fact we have been bleeding for a long time, hemorrhaging for years. Who will stand up, and admit something? I do not mean defeat, just coming clean.



There was a moment almost thirty years ago in documentary class, when our beloved professor went around the room asking how our treatments were going for the film we would make that semester. I told him about these empty trains, these forgotten, rusting hulks that once glued the country together, belching smoke and inspiring people to run out, to wave as they passed, a modern miracle. He paused, and told me about a beautiful case of lenses he owned, for his film camera. He imagined them broken, in the mud someday, useless after hearing my story. But it was not a story, it was something I had seen with my own eyes, something I wanted to record before it crumbled to nothing.

Later in the hallway, he leaned over and told me, "No one wears white."



It is dark now, and the candles are low. I do not like what I have written very much. The sharp memory of jangled nerves and fear, of hushed phone calls and the undertow of helplessness, they just are not there on the page. It just sounds sad and angry. But maybe that is the truth, and the rest was an opera in my head.

I don't know.

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