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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…

no disguise


It wasn't something I had planned on, it just began one Saturday afternoon. Maybe keeping a 100 year old guitar within reach is all it takes, and there is nothing so remarkable or surprising after that happens. There is a sound that comes from it, not just the jangle and the clang of wild strumming - but of lost history, of stories that smell like old books in an attic. There is ancient dust in the cracks of this guitar and I get lost in it. As if birds are flying into the windows, the songs splash out one at a time, each one sadder and lonelier and more full of regret than the next. They are confessions, apologies, conversations with lost souls. I cannot say I write them as much as witness them. 

                       Don't know if I'm good or bad, 
                     just what you tell me.
                     She had a gift for taking things away
                     so please tell me, some precious things.
                     Like when I was a boy, 
                     when I was the new kid.


I am calling this almost-album "a box of letters" right now, but I am sure there is a better name that will replace that. I have demos of nine songs, all recorded within minutes of writing them. I stop sometimes, editing the words, starting again. I put the songs in different sequences to listen to while riding the trolley bus in the afternoon to go to the big market where there is fish and secret imported cheese, wild honey and chopsticks. There is something so foreign about my voice in the headphones, and I barely recognize it. The guitar, that is another story. It can never disguise itself.

Some songs go, and new ones replace them. I toy with some spoken word sections, literally reading letters to old girlfriends written by imaginary men, but then I put those aside. They sound more like a radio play to me now, even with murky instruments bubbling behind them like brain soup. 

The last song in the lineup plays, and then there is silence. I stare at the old people on the bus, a woman with her head wrapped in a scarf stepping into the bright afternoon. It all feels so incredibly overwhelming, and I did not see that coming.

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