Lola Rennt

Luck of the Irish

I am in line behind you, waiting to check into my flight, oversensitive to sights and sounds with the bloodshot sleeplessness of my endless journey back from a place that felt more like home than the home I’m going to.  Conflicted, reticent: yet another piece of my heart chipped off and left behind with yet another person who will cherish it for a time as a beautiful exotic souvenir set on his mantel until the next spring cleaning when it gets packed away and stowed in a cardboard box cushioned by all other lovely mementoes turned to dust.  I contemplate your back clad in black, mind vacant, even as you turn and your blue eyes jolt me awake: I’m too tired to invent a life to go with the blueness of your eyes, to conjure up the adventures you will embark upon when your plane touches down, to imagine the heartbreak you are running away from or the fervent embrace you will walk into at the arrivals gate.  Yet even still there is something: a divine sign disguised as thunder and lightning; or was it just the shitty old airport halogen lighting flickering?  And with that you leave the counter and are gone.  It’s my turn now: “no, I’ve got no luggage; yes, I’m going back to real life.”  Wearily I shuffle off. 
My mind is back on the goodbyes I said so recently: only a lifetime ago, in a different country, in a different world, as I do the chicken dance through the metal detector.  Mail and plate clinks as I remove the layers of armor built up so dutifully over the years of broken promises and hearts, and pile them up high in the plastic container provided for my convenience, to stand there stark naked in my vulnerability.  I wonder how deep inside me they can see.  Would they still let me through if the x-ray could detect the metallic aftertaste of bitterness?  But I’m through without any adventures, and this is exactly what I love about airports: regardless of who and what we are, we are all equally barefoot in the eyes of the customs officials.  As we file along clutching metered ounces of vital fluids to our chests I assign biographies to the nameless barefoot: leader of a drug cartel disguised as a businessman; a femme fatale causing turmoil in the president’s chambers; a runaway eluding the Fates across borders and continents…  And you, you are trekking the globe in search, on a quest to find what lies within your own heart. 
I find my seat, 20A, by the window, so should shit go down, I will at the very least have front row seats to my own demise.  And just like that, before the plane even takes off I’m on a journey of my own within the pages of my latest drug of choice – whatever book it is that gets me away from the here and now, from the dread of a repeated yesterday.  The next time I lift my eyes off the page you are walking down the aisle, awkwardly maneuvering your backpack between the two rows of seats.  I look and I wonder and it’s been a moment or two longer than it is socially acceptable to stare at strangers so I fashion my face into an apologetic smile and so do you.  I shift my eyes back onto my book but see your face:  the recycled airplane air thick with the impending doom of an aborted love affair; a could-have-been that will never have a chance to get its bearings now.  It will never establish its hold on my soul, nipped in the bud before its tentacles get a firm enough grip on my heart, infesting my stomach with butterflies, killing me a little with every passing day until I’m little more than just raw yearning for yet another man brave enough to attempt this fucking feat of rom-com surrealism.  Then you sit down.  20B. 

As you settle among the seat belt, the pillow, the blanket, the safety instructions and the barf bag I feel the back of my neck prickle under the heat of your eyes on me.  I look up and catch your lips form a word: was it “kismet” or “kiss me” you said?  No matter…  Chances, however unlikely, should not be wasted.
“Are you coming or going?” I ask. 
“Going home” you answer, nearly caught off guard by my question.  Where had your thoughts taken you?  Had they taken me along as well?
We speak of suitcases and stamps in passports and trains, of missed connections and customs officers and perplexing customs of alien lands.  We speak of beaches and icebergs and cloisters and castles.  Of very first trips in VW Beetles.  Of me.  Of you.  You have been running with the bulls, and throwing tomatoes, and sleeping under the starlit sky on top of the world.  You have been chasing the sunrise, marveling at the magnificence of Gothic cathedrals and imbuing the magic of the mundane everyday life as somebody else.  You have been discovering the world and yourself in it and falling in love. 
“Are you married?” asks the stewardess as she hands me a customs form to fill out. “No” I answer, flustered.  “Not yet” you smirk unabashedly as she hands you a sheet of your own.  “Though it would have to be presided by Elvis” you reveal our wedding plans to me.  Our first date progresses rather quickly as we cram lifetimes into one transatlantic flight.  “A captain on a ship can perform weddings, why can’t an airplane pilot?”  There is a dinner, and a movie, and music, and the thought of heavily fined candlelight, and at last I close my eyes with my head on your shoulder and the armrest digging painfully into my spleen.  You offer me melatonin to help me sleep, and I wonder what it has been helping you forget all this time.  Were your dreams better than the reality you have been running away from?  You put your arms around me.  The thumping of my heart deafens the engines.
The landing announcements come too soon in a thick Irish accent: “Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position.”  I know the way my skin tingles at your touch.  I do not know the sound of your voice when you whisper my name.  “Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins.”  I know how you got the scar on your right hand.  I do not know what it is like to love you so violently that my heart and my hand break. “Please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely parked at the gate.”   I know what you wanted to be when you were a child.  I do not know the way you will look at a child of your own.  “Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”  You hold me as we descend from our cloud nine. 

Step 1

Before making a laundry list of the shit pile of baggage you have been carrying around with you since adolescence, before admitting errors and making amends for them, before turning a new page and pretending to have learned how to live life anew, before taking steps 2 through 12 comes the very first step of finding yourself face-first in a pool of snot and tears, wiping the bathroom tile with your designer cocktail dress, realizing dimly through the chemical and emotional haze that you no longer have the power to put things right side up again, not even yourself.

Step one is to admit that you are powerless and that your life has become unmanageable. Unless you really meant to end up mopping up the floor with your hairdo…

Beyond this “here and now”; beyond the coffee and the cigarettes, and the melting ice cubes in an abandoned glass of scotch, and the jazz moaning from the stereo, competing with the moaning from the bedroom; beyond the tangled bodies caught in the nets of tumbled sheets; beyond the “here” and beyond the “now” our lives had become a hot mess. It wasn’t about love, it was about the immediate gratification of self-medication with all the wrong pills. And the knotted, tangled mess of our lives snagged all the more on every word we didn’t mean, on every broken promise we never intended to keep, unraveling further still. Junkies jonesing for their next fix, we didn’t clean up and rehab and twelve-step our way back into being productive members of society. We just changed dealers and upped our dosage for good measure.

In love with our heartbreak more than we had ever been with each other, we found our greatest release in tears: the sheets never dried from the mixture of indeterminate bodily fluids. The unrestrained violence of passion (whatever passion it happened to be) was the only fix that’d do the trick - and each time we were hurting for more; our only sanctity that became our eventual undoing.

Life had finally become unmanageable and out of focus, as my contacts kept flowing out with the tears.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Broken though breathless
To endure my penance
Yet again;
Open and careless,
Albeit knowing exactly
How this goes,

I tread on the same
Eggshells of hurt pride,
Quicksands of the past.
I trace my steps back
Over the ashes of
A burned bridge.

I offer the battered
Surviving pieces of my
Careworn heart
As fodder to be thrown
To the wolves of your

Tear down my defenses,
Dry my rueful tears so that
I can
Cry new streams of sadness
And break down the levees
Of new pain.
Le Fabuleux Destin

The original foursquare

Just as everyone is going gaga over new technologies and trying to beat each other in the number of social networks, through which to proclaim their coolness, I wanted to remind people of the Four Square before there was foursquare.

Four Square by Franz Kline, National Gallery of Art

Eat. Pray. Love. Read.

 “In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place.”
 - Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat. Pray. Love."

As a self-admitted pedant and a book snob I’m a big believer that what you read defines who you are. And somewhat like in “High Fidelity” I judge compatibility with someone based on whether or not our favorite books would “even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

Back in the day when I was in denial about the bitterness I felt over a person from my past starting to date again, it made itself evident in a comment I made about the girl’s reading habit.
“So what is it that you two have in common?” I asked, as if really invested in his well-being. Though looking back I think I was doing a poor job masking my jealousy.
“Well, she reads a lot. And you know how much I appreciate that,” he offered naively. Or maybe purposely: to point out that, no, in fact I wasn’t the only girl that read, and actually I wasn’t “the only” girl that anything.
Surprised by just how much that stung, I spat out, “What exactly? Self-help books?”

Coming from me it was an insult, and it was interpreted as such. And frankly, I still feel that if to you “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.” then you should probably not go around telling people that you like reading. Maybe you can list unsuccessful book-shopping as a hobby. But not reading. Granted, you may someday graduate to grown-up books. But until then, don’t tell anyone that you read, because they just might ask you “what?”

Armed with this delightful open-minded approach I encountered Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat. Pray. Love.” a few years back when it had just come out. A friend was going through a tough divorce, and was clutching the book like it was a life raft. “Grow a backbone” I thought. “Is reading about some girl’s divorce and meanderings all over the world in search of her self really going to help you through this?” Besides, I thought, maybe if my friend got a book deal out of her divorce, things would be easier for her as well. Needless to say, I was skeptical when the book made The New York Times Bestseller list so many weeks in a row. And all the ooh-ing and ah-ing that accompanied the obvious financial success, the tossing around of words just as “self-discovery” and “emotional voyage” arose an absolute aversion in me. And then came the worst of all evils, the absolute death of a good book, the death sentence handed to a piece of art by making it into a piece of popular culture: the movie. Things went from bad to worse when it turned out that the author/the main character were to be played by Julia Roberts.

“Buh-bye Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s been nice not knowing you. Enjoy the cheesy movie and rolling around in all that dough…”

But then my writing instructor mentioned “Eat. Pray. Love.” in class as a good example of a successful pattern in a memoir book. The book, she said, was split into 3 sections: one for each country where the author had travelled. The 3 parts of the title each spoke of the experience she had had in each respective country. The number of chapters, 108, was split evenly among the 3 different sections: 36 each. And the total number of chapters wasn’t arbitrary either; it corresponded to the number of beads in a japa mala: traditional Hindu or Buddhist prayer beads that are used during prayer and meditation. Something akin to Western rosary beads.

Well, if you put things this way, I just may be curious enough to get the book. Although, Ms. Gilbert, don’t expect me to contribute to your amassed fortune – I bought the book used.

And even still, this was nothing more than just professional curiosity, seeing as we were learning about how to use pattern in our writing. But boy, was I surprised when I started to read and it dawned on me that I had dog-eared half of the first 50 pages. As reluctant as I still am to admit it, this book just may actually have some wisdom to it. Not only that, but also this wisdom comes to me at a time when it is most needed. I read and I see my thoughts reflected in the author’s thoughts, my worries and my internal battles ravaging somebody else’s mind, my conclusions finding the words to come to life through this book that I fought tooth and nail not to read.

The “Eat” section of the book, which describes Gilbert’s experience in Italy, I devoured in less than a day. “Pray”, detailing her life in an ashram in India, is going a little more slowly, mindfully. I find myself putting the book down and allowing myself to really muse on some thought or another quite frequently. I haven’t made it to Indonesia yet. But even if I get nothing more from this book, it’s already given me plenty. There were enough cues to initiate insight and churn my thoughts and direct them in the right channel. And I’m actually really glad that I was so adamant against reading this book before. That’s another little Liz Gilbert wisdom for you: all in its due time.

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Final sale

Our hopes and dreams: unrealized, unrealistic,
In fashion just a year ago, now out of vogue,
Cleared out to make some room
For yet another heartbreak in the making.
The inventory of now antiquated tenderness
Still cluttering the shelves, growing stale. For sale
To whomever should pay the highest price for these sad
Wilted feelings of last summer, with a price tag of
A card still (bitterly) addressed to someone else.
Our once first person plural splintered,
Split up, wrapped individually and sold,
Cushioned by cynicism against all future damage.
Fashion, like history, repeats itself.
So I expect that soon enough the shelves will fill
With new inventory that will not hesitate
To break my heart in some new-fashioned
Yet such familiar way.

Lola Rennt

Cross-posted: Daniel Varoujan Poetry Prize

So the plan was - I would write a weekly column of articles for covering writers, artists and musicians of Armenian descent.  However, I decided to expand the coverage somewhat to include a variety of topics of literary/artistic/musical interest.  And for my very first article I bring to your attention the Daniel Varoujan Poetry Prize.  

Here is an excerpt from the article:
The most recent period is that of inflicting my amateurish writings upon the general public. And while blogs are all well and good, recently I have been searching for ink-upon-paper solidity that would make my delusions about my skills of word-wrangling just a little less delusional. I’d never even printed my writing before, let alone sticking it into an envelope and sending it on its mission of finding a literary magazine that would publish it. I worry about it the way parents might worry about their kids going off to college: will it be ok all the way out there all on its own?

And so in my search for inspiration, motivation and a possible outlet with an ISBN I came across the Daniel Varoujan Poetry Prize. Yes, that Varoujan, our Varoujan, the Armenian poet killed in 1915 in the Armenian genocide, now has a $1000 annual poetry prize named after him.

Full article - here.

Tattooed chicks do it better

12 springs ago or so I discovered the solution to budgetary problems that the highly respected and presumably intelligent group of 541 up on the Hill can’t seem to arrive at: earn more, spend less. Back in the day the concept of earning was somewhat relative: my earnings came in the form of lunch money. Saving was a little unorthodox as well: skipping lunch made you skinny and gave you the funds to squeeze your new skinniness into new jeans (though saving for something like new jeans was an endeavor complicated by a loudly growling stomach). Well, this particular time I didn’t need to save much, so a growling stomach was successfully avoided. What I was saving for was a set of somewhat realistic-looking stick-on tattoos that had surfaced at the little junk jewelry stalls at the “Дружба” metro station. They were almost perfect; as close as I could get to the real thing back then.

The inception of my tattoo obsession, embarrassingly, came from the Aqua front woman of the fiery red bangs, the Barbie girl herself, Lene Nystrom. Or her eagle tattoo anyway. The sugary pop of Aqua’s music was no longer just brain candy for me but rather my anthem of rebellion as I imagined the possibility of non-conformism looking so cool. The 14 year old me, I was captivated.

This predilection of mine was fed and strengthened by the society’s response to my little stick-on barbed wire arm band: some people loved it, some people hated it, but no one was indifferent. Being a walking research study in anthropology and sociology was thrilling. And thus, the stick-up tattoo market got the benefit of my lunch money.

I started noticing the old and faded army tattoos elderly men displayed on their knuckles like flags of their unending allegiance to their military units of old.  I fished a story about my great aunt Zabelle and her tattoos out of my dad. Poor unsuspecting dad, I wonder if he had any idea what I was going to use that story as a basis for.

Since then, my arms and chest have bloomed with a multitude of tattooed flowers, the insides of my elbows advise about the benefits of forgetfulness, and I’m eager to get more body art and currently shopping for an artist.

For some tattoos are purely aesthetic, for others they are deeply meaningful and emotional. For some they are about the result, for other about the process of tattoing itself. For some they are a source of pride, for others they become permanent reminders of a regrettable past to be erased by a painful and costly laser procedure. To me tattoos are a way of self-expression, my aesthetic interpretation of the concept of beauty, my faith in wearing your heart on your sleeve, my proof that even though I can’t commit to much of anything, I can commit to body art.


Of forgiveness and forgetting

 "And other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"
That's what it feels like to be told that we should forget the past and move on, focusing on making the most politically correct foreign policy decisions: like a bad joke.  
Yes, as a logically reasoning person I understand all the arguments for making tactical peace with Turkey, who is an ally not even the US dares to anger.  I understand the importance of not living in the past.  I understand that with with political tensions in the region climbing high, the last thing we want to do is antagonize the West by calling presidents liars for not delivering on promises made in reverent tones to the Armenian communities in their countries during their election campaigns.
But as a living, breathing, and moreover, feeling Armenian letting go of something that according to the international community has not even happened is proving just a tad difficult.  I personally do not want lands or reparations, what I want is an admission of guilt.  I want this personal and national tragedy to be called what it was: a deliberate and systematic extermination of a national group.  The Armenian national group.  Perpetrated by the Turkish government.  The Armenian genocide. 
Not "great atrocities".  Not "Medz Eghern".  Not "massacre" or "mass killing".  
Yes, it is a pissing contest.  Yes, it is a fight over semantics.  No, I don't believe in forgiveness without repentance.
Believe me, I want to forgive and I want to forget.  I want to kiss and make up.  I want to close is horrific chapter in my nation's history and train my eyes on the future.  But how would you have me do it, if my pain and the pain of my people is said to be fictional?
P.S. There is a wreath laying ceremony at the Armenian embassy in Washington, D.C. at 4 pm today.