Sunday, January 25, 2009

United We Yawn, Divided We Thrive

by Zinta Aistars

When in my life have I not been divided? Cleanly down the middle, knifed from head to toe, through the two hemispheres of the brain, between the right and left ventricles of the heart, belly button separated into two tiny half moons to shine over two places where I reside. I have never been one, a whole, but from the moment of conception a person of two minds, two hearts, two languages, two homes. Having crossed into the second half-century of my life, there is apparently no reason to end this trend.

Indeed, it is my birthright. If as a child, my first language was Latvian, only upon entering public school learning English, holding dual citizenship both in the country of my birth—the United States—and the country where my ethnic roots snake deep, deep into centuries of an ancient culture—Latvia, one of the three Baltic States—then I have so long followed this dual path, straddling two separate lives, that it has become my comfort zone. At last, I accept it.

As I enter this newest hang-out in Kalamazoo, The Wine Loft, I see my good friend, Sherie, waiting for me. This new place is located on West Michigan, in what is known as the Haymarket Building, and I have always enjoyed being here. I know the building. I have shopped at favorite little boutiques here. I have dined here at the original location of Food Dance Café, now expanded and moved a couple blocks down in this ever growing town. But the boutiques and the café are now gone, replaced by this expansive … shall we call it a bar? But it is not the conventional watering trough. The double doors open on the dark gleam of copper and bronze and gold, the bar itself curving gently to my left, into the depths of the room, and to my right, a few candlelit tables, but straight ahead, with Sherie having chosen the ideal people-watching spot, dead center, among comfortable groupings of velvety, chocolate-brown sofas and low coffee tables, divided by silky scarves that fall from the dark wood ceiling high above. Gold and bronze threads catch light in the scarves, billowing slightly as waitresses move silently from person to person, bringing glasses of wine. Sherie holds a slim glass in her hand, something golden and sparkling with bubbles. I toss my coat beside me on the inviting couch, order a glass of Stryker merlot, and settle in.

“What?” Sherie smiles at me, watching me shake my head, roll my eyes, throw up my hands to the heavens.

“I will never be able to choose,” I give up.

“Then take it all,” Sherie laughs, then decides to ask, “What exactly must you choose?”

“Oh, I don’t have to choose,” I realize. “Which is the point, I suppose. It is my life. My destiny. Ever a two-timer.”

“Oh?” Sherie raises an eyebrow.

“No, no,” I wave away her expression, realizing what my comment intimated. The waitress hands me my wine with a gracious dip of her hand and slides away into the dim of the lounge. I appreciate her not interrupting our conversation. “I have been making this daily 110-mile commute for over a year now,” I continue. “Every day, back and forth, and God knows it swallows up my time. Energy, too. And the highway in winter, alongside the Lake,” I sigh. I swirl the burgundy liquid in my glass and close my eyes for a moment to enjoy the delicate scent of fermented fruit. We live alongside Lake Michigan, the lake nearly as great as a sea, and the highway I drive daily, Interstate 131, stretches along it in a nearly straight line, open to all the harsh winds and swirling storms that cross over that body of water. I don’t bother to finish my sentence. Sherie knows. She’s a road warrior, too.

“These days, I say—I sleep in Kalamazoo, and I live in Grand Rapids. But it isn’t true. I live two lives, here and there, there and here, and I am loathe to give up either. I have grown quite fond of my new city, but I realize how deep runs my affection for this one. As much as I have run from it in the past.”

Sherie shrugs at such a problem, so easily solved. “Then keep doing what you are doing. And when you no longer wish to do it, stop.”

I laugh. Sherie always knows how to pare a problem done to the bone, often finding it doesn’t really exist in the first place. Nothing a glass of fine wine and friendship won’t solve. Indeed, as we clink glasses in a toast to this wintry Friday evening, full of promise for an enjoyable weekend ahead, I settle into the soft, velvety pillows of the sofa and allow my muscles to melt. I sigh again, long and easy, releasing the day, the work week, the various nuisances of life, because I am well aware of my many blessings. The nuisances are merely that. I sip and allow my eyes to travel across the room.

“Terrific, isn’t it? “ Sherie says. “Kalamazoo’s newest, and you can see how people are drawn to it.”

Yes, the tables fill quickly, as do the seats at the bar, and the groupings of couches, while others pass us to go up stairs to a loft at the back, closed off to the rest of the lounge by a dark curtain of secrecy. Rented space for private gatherings. Glasses and rows upon rows of wine bottles shimmer along the wall behind the bar. A pewter mask on the wall overhead gleams in the dim lighting. I ponder an abstract painting on another wall. People are talking quietly, leaning into each other, sipping their wine and eating from small plates—bruschetta and olives and creamy cheeses and thin slices of peppered and marinated meats.

“Terrific, yes,” I agree. “See what I mean? What a wonderful new place. Inviting, relaxing, sophisticated, and just right for us vintage dames who enjoy fine things and philosophical conversation. I dare say this will be my new favorite in the Zoo. Yet one more place to hold me. Before I take off again.”

“It’s all about acceptance.”

“Futile to resist.”


And a few moments later, Elizabeth joins us, Sherie introduces us—this is Zinta, the writer, this is Elizabeth, the cellist—and we clink three glasses this time in introduction. Elizabeth talks to me about the Stulberg International String Competition, and I am intrigued. She is on the board of directors with the organization, working to support young musicians from around the world, all striving for recognition, all gathering to compete once a year in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Elizabeth accepts my business card, advertising my freelance services, and we talk about press releases that I will write for Stulberg. I am honored. She invites me to attend the competition and dinner this spring, and I am only too pleased to accept. My time is already stretched to the utmost, a few threads already snapping and curling up in exasperation, like violin strings in the cold—ping. But how can I say no to promotional work for such a breathtakingly beautiful cause in support of the arts? I have heard Elizabeth herself play, her cello bringing tears to my eyes, years ago in a Kalamazoo concert hall. The soul needs these riches. Music, literature, the company of the vintage wise, and fine wine. I embrace it all. I wish to be a part of all of these. I refuse to choose between my divided lives and many interests, and instead, ever into deeper waters, leap in.

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