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talking to the trees

Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference…

Let's see (a photo by E)

There is a little voice that surfaced a few years ago. I am a born headbanger. Wall, head, grindstone, nose. Rinse, repeat. I don't know the origin of this voice, or the exact moment it appeared, just that I listened. It told me to let go. Instead of wrestling, take a step back and marvel at the way things can work out all by themselves. Sometimes the right action is to do nothing. It was a tough lesson to learn, as I am used to conflict being resolved with sweat and tears and sleepless nights. 

In E's bedroom, a guitar stands. I remember buying it together, her perched on a little stool trying one after another until this Spanish one felt best. It was expensive, but she was studying in a great program. That ended some time ago, and the guitar remains, like those props in 80's films. Every teenager with an unused guitar in the corner 

She still does not play it, but she teaches herself piano almost every day. She plays for hours, with a blanket curled around her feet, face locked in concentration. I tell her dinner is ready 15 times before she hears me. I did nothing but let her borrow one of my keyboards, and showed her how to work it. I did not take her to lessons, just told her she could use it any time and if I needed it back, I would tell her. I find it fascinating, how she chose it, how she takes such pleasure from it. She never said "can I play this for you on guitar". It was always practicing and memorizing, and preparing for the next recital, nothing more. 

She borrowed one of my old cameras in the same way, until we bought her a new one for her birthday a year ago. E keeps it on a little tripod, ready for a certain blue sky, or snow falling, or rain. She loves to photograph rain. But this also lingers for weeks and months, unused. Sometimes she goes out with me, when I am shooting and then she does sling the camera around her neck, stopping to look, mouth twisted in thought. But most of the time, she ignores the camera.

Last week, she told me she had started to make self-portraits with it. She was looking for my reaction, quite possibly my approval. I looked at it, and had the combined joy of a parent and of an artist, sometimes a teacher. I told her to do more like this, more, more, more. I told her what was working with the composition, what was working with the colors, and most of all, the undertone, the story. Then, I told her to forget everything I said because all that matters is what she thinks of it.

I asked her permission to show it, to write about it. A little smile, a shrug of the shoulders.

"Let's see."


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