Thursday, March 14, 2013

Masha, Moscow, and Village Life in Boston

I am one of three sisters. At a clothing swap some years ago, I found a t-shirt from a production of Chekov’s play. At the time, I lived far from both my sisters and began to wear the shirt whenever I missed them. I had not yet read the play.

Shortly after, mostly because if I was going to wear the shirt, I should be at least conversant about the damn thing, I acquired a copy and read it. It was not, as I had perhaps wished, anything like the story of my own sisters, but I still enjoyed it.

Geography is a perennial problem for me. Grass is greener, horizons wider or smaller, friends lovelier, prospects broader, always, elsewhere. The Prozorov trio, with their continual pining for Moscow struck a chord. Masha seemed particularly familiar in her flurry of thwarted passion-driven discontent. I too tend towards the melodramatic, I too am the middle sister, so perhaps that is all that binds me to Masha.
I am not a Chekov scholar and so have only the barest understanding of the context, subtext and cultural mores embedded in those three sisters, of what Chekov intended and what has grown around that intent, like a garden run wild and all the lovelier for the wilding.

But here is what I think of: those girls are trapped away from the life they want, the life they expect. By constantly wanting the impossible, the idealized perfect place, they live in constant disappointment. It is in the blinding trap their longing, in what they lose, that perhaps I see myself and my wanderings most clearly.

Often, I do not know where I should be, where my Moscow is. And I spent long hours worrying about this, with what and where and who I should be becoming horrifically embroiled until I can neither sleep nor move through my days. But, the thought of pining in a bitter stew of disappointment for my entire life is more terrifying.

Which was part of why I moved out of my beloved mountains and into the city. I am happily not part of a troika of grumpy sisters dependent on a feckless brother and trapped like flies in amber in the dying light of Tsarist Russia. I do not have to long for any Moscow, just have to pick a train to somewhere. And so I took a deep breath, ripped off a few of the ties that bind, and became citified.

I don’t know what I expected. I’ve long been fond of the saying that “mountains are indifferent.” It seems similar here—the great bigness of the city is, largely, indifferent to my efforts to carve a space. My constant search for community and purpose, love and beauty—there are no more real answers here than there ever were in the mountains.

How foolish, Masha, to think that in Moscow you would be different.

Wherever you go, there you are.

One day, early in my tenure in the city, I wandered into a bookstore. Some people find solace in running, in becoming a regular in a bar or coffee shop, in joining a club or a church. I find books, and consume them like a ravenous pilgrim. And so it was that I found myself teary-eyed in the poetry aisle and reading Louise Glück’s poem Pastoral, from her collection Village Life. The poem is about people from the country, who have come back from the city: “They think they failed in the city/not that the city doesn’t make good on its promises.”

I bought the book.

When I read and reread that line, I expect less from a change in geography and everything becomes easier.

It is comforting, though, to find what remains when everything except yourself is new. I know people who seek their identity in others, in jobs, and in places, and have certainly done all three of those things myself. But, with every change, every move, every new stab at a home, is another veil dropped. There are things about oneself, no matter where you are, that do not change. I find myself becoming more and more solidly myself, with every shift.

Perhaps that is why the Russian sisters want so badly to go, just to see who they really might be.

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