Reading Larissa Shmailo’s new book, Patient Women, is like riding a wave. It easily flows from one thing to the next and you want to keep reading and reading. This book has it all. Sex, drugs, alcoholism, suicide, incest, tragedy, love, despair, hope, rebirth. What will the main character Nora do next? She compels you to find out.
Nora starts out as a juvenile delinquent who runs away from home and loses her virginity. From there we see her easily get into two highly respected colleges only to lose interest and drop out. She is a brilliant woman who can’t figure out who she is or what she should be doing. So she tries everything.
She keeps getting derailed by her own mental illness and her dysfunctional family. She has a therapist who she hates and he really doesn’t seem very helpful. He loads her up with one drug after another. Her parents survived the holocaust and that still haunts them and plays out in several dysfunctional ways throughout her life. They are not a very good support system for her. It isn’t until she joins AA and reunites with an old friend that she starts to understand the meaning of love.
In the end we don’t know if she lives happily ever after but her demons seem to be at bay and she finds her way as a poet.
I first met Larissa in high school. She was intelligent, funny and a wonderful actress. Now she is a brilliant writer as well.
About the Author
Larissa Shmailo is the editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark re-staging of the Futurist opera; the libretto is available from Cervena Barva Press (2014). Larissa also has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society. Larissa’s collections of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books 2014), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books] 2009), the chapbook, A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press 2006), and the e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks 2011); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World (SongCrew 2006) and Exorcism (SongCrew 2009), for which she received the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award .
I just finished reading My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Luisa was born in Berlin of an American father and an Italian mother. Her parents divorced and she lived her grade school years in Boston and her high school years in Berlin. She ended up in New York City, mainly for her career as a cookbook editor. In New York she fell in love with a man named Sam. Sam was nice and easy to be with and had an extended family in New York who included Luisa in all that they did.
This is where she ran into trouble. She loved New York, she had friends, she had an amazing career, and she had a great boyfriend but something was missing. She felt unsettled. One night she asked Sam if he would ever consider moving to Europe. He immediately said no and volunteered that he didn’t even like traveling. Huge red flag.
As a cross cultural TCK she went through all the confusion, uncertainty, itchy feet feelings we all have. She was pulled in different directions. She went through depression. She knew she should move on but had trouble finding her way. Intellectually it made sense to stay in New York and marry this man but it just didn’t feel right.
I won’t tell you how Luisa resolves her problem but I do recommend her book, especially if you like food. It is full of beautiful descriptions of the food she eats and cooks and each chapter ends with a recipe.
However, I will tell you about a similar experience I had. When I was in college in Boston, I fell in love. I mean the real kind of love where you are gaga most of the time and happy and everything you do together is meaningful. I met Chris at a dance at Simmons the first week I was there. He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before. I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that. He taught me a lot about America and its history. Or at least his view of it. He also showed me everything there was is to see in the Boston area and more. And he loved to dance.
His father was sent to America from Germany at the beginning of WWII with his entire inheritance to get away from the war. Chris’ father spent all his money getting a PhD at Harvard and he taught philosophy at MIT. His family was killed in the war.
Chris’ maternal grandparents fled Belarus during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. His mother grew up in Paris and when she was 19 they immigrated to the USA. She spoke English with a French accent. Her father had died by the time I met her but I met her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian. Chris grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English. The family lived in Europe when his father was on sabbatical but other than that he had done no traveling and had no desire to go anyplace. He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life. And actually it was suburban Boston that he wanted to live in, not far from his parents.
Of course things were not always perfect but I felt very close to Chris. I was never afraid to talk to him about anything. We were very open with each other about everything. If we were feeling smothered we said so and would take a break for a couple of days. We rarely fought. I almost always got whatever I wanted. I felt totally secure and adored. I reveled in it. I had my 21st birthday that summer and we had a wild party where neighbors were threatening to call the police – I think maybe they did show up at one point – and people were asleep on my couch the next morning. Chris cleaned the house and by the time I got up you never would have known there had been a party. It all seemed too good to be true.
One night that summer Chris asked me to marry him. I said yes.
The following Christmas I returned to Nigeria to see my parents and I met a guy named Peter who was studying at the University of Ibadan. He was funny and quick witted. We shared the traveling bug and a variety of experiences that come from living overseas. He made me realize how boxed in I had become by being with Chris. I had been living in a safe, predictable, all-American environment with few challenges and little true excitement. I can’t say it was boring because I wasn’t bored but it was maybe too normal. Normal is good sometimes but not all the time. At least not for me. Meeting Peter triggered a lot of feelings and I realized marrying Chris meant chopping off a part of myself.
Could I spend the rest of my life living in Boston and going to the in-laws on Sundays for dinner? Could I live without seeing more of the world? Could I live with a man who didn’t understand my story? It made me feel one-dimensional. So in the end I ran away and broke his heart.
Funnily enough he did move to Texas and traveled to Asia for work, although he said he didn’t enjoy it. He returned to suburban Boston and lived out his life there. There was a time in my life when I had some regrets. I wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed and married him. My life hasn’t been easy or safe but when all is said and done I think I made the right decision for me.
“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The United Nations theme for 2014 International Women’s Day is “Equality for women is progress for all”.
In 1908 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better working conditions, more pay, and the right to vote. This was the birth of the woman’s movement. In 1911 more than a million women marched throughout Europe to end discrimination. On March 25th of that year 123 female garment workers aged 16 to 23 died in a fire in New York City. Many fell or jumped to their deaths to escape the fire. The doors were locked. Most of them were Italian and Jewish immigrants. The outcome was legislation mandating better working conditions.
The first Women’s Day was held in 1911 and in 1914 March 8th became the official International Women’s Day. In 1917 the women of Russia staged a protest for “Bread and Peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers. They protested for four days until the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted them the right to vote. Their protest started on March 8th.
Over the years the movement grew and today 27 countries around the world celebrated March 8th as an official holiday. Women in the 1970’s again rose and fought for women’s rights and equality. In the West much was accomplished and women entered the workforce and gained more equality and legislative rights.
However, there is still considerable inequality. Women do not have equal rights or equal pay. Many women around the world are still dealing with forced marriages, slavery and horrible working conditions. In 2012, 257 people died in a textile factory in Pakistan. It is suspected the doors were locked.
In Russia March 8th is a big deal. Women receive flowers and small presents. Families gather for celebrations. Everybody has the day off work. It is nice.
But it is also a time to reflect on how much more there is to do. Look out for your sisters, mothers, daughters and friends.
I was in New York City last weekend for a high school reunion. I went to boarding school on Switzerland and they have “all school reunions” in different cities around the world throughout the year. Anybody who went there can attend. –