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My White City

26 Mar

I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and have lived in North America for all but the first two years of my life. I grew up speaking Serbian with my parents and almost every year since moving to North America they would ship me back to Serbia for the summer months. Some of my greatest memories were born during those burning Belgrade summer days, and now as a somewhat “grown-up” my heart yearns to go back. Almost all Serbs outside of Serbia suffer from nostalgia and when I discuss this feeling that comes creeping over me with my other Serbian friends, we always notice that it arises around spring. The warmer weather triggers something inside of me, a calling for home, a need to go back and be surrounded by my own. It’s strange how it works considering how little of my time I actually spend there- yet there is this great attachment, an instinct to go back to the land, the people, the culture, the food, and the city of my birth: Beograd, “White City”.

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A View of New Belgrade from Fort Kalemegdan

There is a time in the spring, the spring, always in the spring, it always reminds me of you. And no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard, I always, always, will miss you. There’s something about you, the way that you, that you, remind me of home. And even if only I spent so little of my days, my days, those days are the ones I long for most. My house, my old house, the only one I’ve known. You wait for me and I yearn for you, and in summers one day we will rejoice. My people, those people, so sad and proud, you are mine and I am yours. Your streets, my streets, crowded with spirit, the spirit of resilience and poise. Your nights so turbulent and unexpected, I wake with a hangover of joy. Sunrise, oh sunrise, over the rivers two, kissing eternally for lovers on the fort. The view majestic, old and new, our problems, one day, eventually, we will sort. Onward and forward, let shells fall again, our passion, this passion, is here great lady, till the very bitter end. My White City.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Here are a couple of links with info on the beautiful city of Belgrade. I highly suggest Belgrade and Serbia as a fulfilling summer destination outside of the usual European hot spots.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/slideshow/20130122-serbia-s-seductive-charms

http://www.beograd.rs/cms/view.php?id=220

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrade

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One Bad Day

8 Mar

The morning was slow and dreadful and the afternoon wasn’t getting any better. Greg forgot his lunch and wallet back at his overly priced basement rental. The rain had been falling for three days straight and the ceiling was leaking a weird yellow colour. The landlord still hadn’t come to fix the problem. Thankfully, he scrounged enough change for the streetcar from four different pockets. The streetcar was late and during the ride he stood from his seat to let an elderly woman take his place. She had a grocery bag tied over her head. She sat down and said, “you’re not doing anybody a favour, young man. Back in my day this was customary.”

During his short lunch break Greg burnt his tongue on day old coffee and spilled some on his blue wrinkled collar shirt. Annie the floor manager made him put a sweater over top. “Wrinkled and stained, you know you can’t go out there like that Greg. What would our customers think?”

Earlier in the morning he had been reprimanded for leaning on a display table looking, as Annie said, ‘morose’. She asked him if he knew what it meant. He simply nodded and wondered if she remembered his resume and that he had graduated with an English major. His mind floated off elsewhere while her rouge lips motored on and he hated himself for being physically attracted to her. Her long sandy hair tied in a firm pointy tail, tightening her soft porcelain skin, accentuating her features. “Hello, are you even listening to me?”

“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

He had six more hours to go and knew for sure that he wouldn’t reach his sales goal, making it three shifts in a row. The weather outdoors was taking its toll; the mall was dead. Greg hated days like this because he was left on the floor with his arms locked behind his back, mind racing. He could hear his father’s voice loud and clear as if he were standing right in front of him lecturing. “English? What the hell are you going to do with English, huh?”

“I don’t know,” the younger version of himself would reply. “Write.”

“Write? Write what? Times are tough, Greg. You know mom and I won’t be able to help you. The economy is in the gutter, jobs are getting harder and harder to find. You should look into taking something substantial, something safe. Financing, technology, engineering, those jobs will always be in demand. There’s money there. You have to be smart about your future.”

Mall lighting gave him headaches and he felt one coming on. His breath was of stale coffee and his stomach grumbled reminding him of his hunger. His part-time summer job had extended into autumn, turning into an almost full-time position. Stifling dry summer days had given way to wet and rigid weather, the scent of petrichor filling the air: He hadn’t written a meaningful word in four months. Sometimes Greg wondered how he even got to where he was- a sales representative at an expensive clothing store. Him? Really? Before his girlfriend Rebecca came along his wardrobe was limited to necessity. Countless shopping trips later, he now matched and paired only by memorizing his girlfriend’s rules. He was still clueless. Somehow and miraculously enough Annie hadn’t noticed during the interview process, her head clearly elsewhere. However, he felt his time there winding down, her patients wearing thin, his fellow floor reps growing tired of constantly bailing him out of awkward customer exchanges.

This is my life, he thought to himself. I chose this path. Deep within him the ever growing idea of making a gargantuan mistake was taking over. His father’s so called ‘bail-out plan’ option becoming more likely. Law school. The fashionable thing to do among his peers. No one stayed only an English major for long. “Debt now, reward later. Think about it.”

Already undergrad debt riddled, adding the heavy burden of law school overwhelmed him. Greg had been rejected from several schools. No one even knew he applied. His girlfriend was also an advocate of this plan-coming from a wealthy family she never understood why he studied English, always hoping it’d be a stepping stone for something greater. “You’re so smart you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it!” Rebecca’s ‘anything’s’ we’re always high paying positions. She was in the first year of her MBA, her father in investments; her mother called Greg ‘Greggor’ and he hated it. “She knows its Greg, she does it on purpose, I’m telling you.”

“Why would she do that, Greg? You’re being paranoid again.”

They had gone for lunch with her parents twice over summer. The conversations were strained and contrived. Both times he argued against going, Rebecca telling him he feared any kind of commitment. They were a doomed mismatch he was certain of this. Pretty, intellectual, driven, athletic, this was her, this was Becca. She lived with a girlfriend on the twenty-fifth floor in a two bedroom loft looking over the lake. His buried dungeon was known for phantom, out of nowhere, funky smells. They were polar opposites.

When she walked in the store holding a wet umbrella in one hand, biting into a sandwich with the other, it took Greg by complete surprise. “Becca. What are you doing here?” He went to kiss her but she stopped him, pointing to her mouth, that she was chewing. Self-consciously he wondered if she caught a whiff of his coffee breath. He took a few steps back.

“I thought I’d quickly stop by on my way to the library. I’m going to study and I won’t be able to come over tonight. I called you on your cell to tell you.”

“I forgot it at home. Along with my wallet and lunch. I’m having an awful day.”

“Aw, baby. Here take my sandwich.” Genuinely happy to see her, he swiped the sandwich from her hand, eagerly ready to shark it down.

“Greg?” Annie appeared from the back room, her eyes narrowing in on him, walking over. “Are you eating on the floor?”

“No, this isn’t what it looks like. This is my girlfriend Becca; she just stopped by to say hi. It’s her sandwich, honestly.”

Annie and Becca exchanged smiles, while Greg shifted uneasily looking down. “Sorry but Greg is on the floor right now and personal visits aren’t allowed, you’re going to have to leave.” Annie turned and went behind the cash desk pretending to be busy. Becca grabbed the sandwich from Greg’s hand before he even took a single solitary bite. “I’m so sorry if I got you in trouble! I shouldn’t have stopped by.”

“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you came.” Their Time spent together growing sparse.

“Alright I got to go,” she said, adjusting her enormous purse filled with books. “Tim’s waiting for me.”

“Tim? Again?”

“Yeah, Tim. You know I’ve been studying with him. O.k. but seriously I have to go.” She kissed him on the cheek and before he could say another word she left.

Afterwards Annie sent him home early and threatened him with a, “we need to talk about your recent performance tomorrow.” He told her, “don’t bother, I quit.”

Penniless, he walked the eight blocks back to his dungeon in the now torrential rain, developing sniffles and a cough by the end of it. His head was pounding. She’s sleeping with him I’m sure of it, kept circling his brain. Upon arrival he was shocked to find his basement door wide open. Inside his landlord stood with hands on his bellied waist looking up at the ceiling. “Greg der you are,” he said, in his thick South-Eastern European accent. “Tried calling mobile, no one ansver. Hole in roof.” Surely enough the yellow leak grew bigger and a beach ball sized gap formed. Up above he could see Mrs. Avramovich looking down at him, smiling. “Hello, sweetie.”

“Hello, Mrs. Avramovich.”

*

Two voice-mails were waiting on his cell. The first from Becca, saying she had to study. He took note that Tim’s name was never mentioned. The second message was from his father, feeding Greg his usual spiel. Oh, and apparently his mother enrolled herself in tango lessons.

Mr. Avramovich had brought in his mail. A package addressed to Greg was among mostly bills and flyers. The package was from a law school he applied to.

…Congratulations you have been accepted into our Winter semester!

Greg sat down in his beaten arm chair examining the piece of paper, a towel wrapped around his shoulders.

“Congratulations, Greggy!” yelled Mr. Avramovich through the hole, having literally read the news over Greg’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Mr. Avramovich.”

“You must be real heppy, yes?”

He looked up through the gaping hole, at the round smiling face, then back down at his acceptance letter. Another piece of ceiling came crashing to the floor.

                                                               ***

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This story is my brief take on 20 something culture post graduation. There is a great indecision within us during this transitional period in our lives where we slowly realize that our ‘dreams’ most likely won’t come true, while we over dramatically believe that almost every choice we make can drastically change our future for the worse. Being an ‘artist’ or following artistic endeavours becomes increasingly hard to do in a volatile economy and it seems we are being forced to lead lives that none of us grew up dreaming of. Our passions are put on hold or made into weekend hobbies while we grind out jobs just to sustain a living. Some are fortunate enough to love what they’re doing and don’t see it as work at all; others are content with a “bon milieu”, while most are stuck in unsatisfying drudgery wondering where their dreams had disappeared to.

Forget Your Personal Tragedy

26 Feb

I found this online a while ago and like to go over it for advice and inspiration when I can’t get anything going on the page. A letter from Hemingway to Fitzgerald after F. Scott’s novel Tender Is the Night was first published. I love how blatant and honest Hemingway is with Fitzgerald and how truthful his advice is and how it really applies to all writers.

Writing letters is a lost art form and it seems big papa had it down pat. I recently wrote a letter and couldn’t believe how difficult it was and how out of practice I am. Anyways, I hope she enjoyed it…

Here’s the link to Hemingway’s letter:

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/04/forget-your-personal-tragedy.html

Leave a message…Writing contest

7 Feb

 I’m a big fan of writing contests and flash fiction. Why? Because it forces me to write. Like many I struggle with motivation and discipline. In my opinion, writing is a discipline and craft more than it is an art form. I have started many stories and they sit unfinished or crumpled up or abandoned completely, hidden somewhere in the depths of drawers and folders probably gone for good. Good riddance! 

Contests provide structure and timeline, forcing you to write. The story may not turn out the way you planned, but it’ll turn out and it will be complete. Keep writing. 

That being said, I stumbled upon NPR’s 3-Minute fiction writing contest and thought I’d give it a go. The rules are simple: 600 words or less, and the story has to be in the form of a voice-mail. Everything else is up to you. Unfortunately the rules only allow US residents to submit their stories. So I’m already out!

Nonetheless, here is my silly little story called Do You Remember Me. I highly suggest you give it a shot and try it out and see what you can come up with! 

Here’s a link to the actual contest page: http://www.npr.org/2013/02/02/170802328/three-minute-fiction-round-10-leave-a-message-after-the-beep

                                                                                                                                                   

Beep.

Hello, this message is for Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson this is the health clinic calling and we received your test results from the lab and I’m happy to tell you the results came back and they were positive.

Oh, wait. Shoot!

No. I mean the opposite. They were negative. Your results came in and they were negative. Which is positive! That’s what I meant to say- I’m sorry, I’m new here; I even made a mental note. Like a kind of song. “Negative is positive, positive is negative.” So, yeah. You’re all good. Everything is good. You’re not sick! Oh, man…

Anyway. Okay, this is going to sound a little weird over the phone…but do you remember me? I was the girl working the front desk? You came in and said it was raining cats and dogs and I said, “well I hope they’re all alright.” And you laughed? And then you said I was funny? And then I laughed? Okay, this is going to sound a little weird over the phone…but I thought you were cute and handsome.  I’m sorry, I know. It’s weird! And I’m sure I’m breaking some kind of confidentiality right now or something but-

-Ok, no problem. Yeah, ok. I’ll do it when I’m finished with these files. Ok. Sure.

Sorry about that. That was Donna. What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Right. Okay, so here’s the thing. Meeting people in the city sucks. And I haven’t been able to go out much having just finished school and I just started this job and want to make a good impression…and like, the whole online scene hasn’t been panning out. Honestly, t’s just a bunch of creepers, you know? Some of the dates I’ve been on, good God! You know?

And from your chart I see you’re only couple of years older than me, and that you were getting mandatory blood work done for a new job- congratulations by the way! What’s the job? I also noticed no band on your ring finger, I mean, you could have a girlfriend, you probably have a girlfriend or whatever, but, I don’t know. Do you have a girlfriend? Oh my God, I’m sorry. That’s none of my business. How nosy am I?-

-Hello, Mr. Horowitz.  I’ll be with you in a moment, if you can please take a seat.

Sorry about that. Mr. Horowitz. He comes in every week for a check-up, even though there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s like eighty or something. He’s cute. I think he’s scared of death. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. So Adam, can I call you Adam? I can call you Mr. Anderson if you’re into that kind of thing…Oh  my God! What did I just say?! I’m so sorry! That’ so embarrassing.

Okay this is crazy, I’m sorry. My name is Lisa. And, I think you’d like me. I don’t know…you’d think in a crowded city there’d be no room for being lonely…Yeah. Okay…

If you want we can start off as Twitter or Facebook friends? Or do you do the whole Instagram thing? I saw you had an iphone. I liked your shoes. Oh my god. Okay, I’m done. This is so embarrassing. Please don’t think I’m crazy. I’m not really. I ramble a lot when I’m nervous. I don’t do this kind of thing ever. EVER. Okay. Whatever.

Umm, you have my number if you want- well, the clinics number. Ask for Lisa. Wait. Actually my cell number is-

Beep.

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Through the Blue Door and Out

29 Jan

couple-embrace

This story was written for the DP weekly writing challenge. “Write a story behind the picture provided.”

This was my take.

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I took the picture. Hell, I took several- he just wouldn’t let go. My stomach was churning. I took note of an aluminum streetcar and pointed my Nikon in its direction and snapped away. It reminded me of a futuristic homage to better days.

A rounded man in a striped shirt struggled up the stiff and shiny cobbled steps. He reached out with his left arm and latched on to his wife’s, who seemed to have a little more vigor in her step. They were most likely going home for an afternoon siesta. Siesta: that’s all it seemed people did around here.

We were walking down a narrow sloped hill with beautifully crumbling buildings on each side, separated only by those challenging staccato cobbled stone steps, and by tram lines going up the middle of the ‘street.’ I took a moment to soak it all in- I finally felt like I was in South America.

“Did you get it? Did you get the shot?” It was Michael. They had finally stopped hugging.

“Yeah, I got it.”

“How did it turn out?” he asked.

“Just fine,” I replied. I looked at Anna who gave me a half-hearted  glance and looked away. She was wearing her red floral sundress. The one that always lifted ever so slightly with the breeze and made me wonder whether her little frame would one day blow away altogether.

“Good,” said Michael with a big grin. “It’s just down the steps and to the left. You guys are going to love it.”

I stopped holding my camera and let it hang around my neck and adjusted the straps of my little backpack. Michael was already three steps down while Anna still hadn’t moved.

“Come on, what are you guys waiting for?” I could see her looking at me from the corner of her eye. She continued down the steps and so did I behind her. When she reached Michael he took her hand.

“You tired, Tony?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“You look a little tired or something. Doesn’t he look tired, Anne?”  She looked up at me, still holding his hand.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, producing the faintest of smiles.

“Are you jet lagged? You can’t still be jet lagged?”

“No, I’m not jet lagged Mike. I’m fine.”

“Alright, alright! Sorry, man. I’m just excited. I want everyone to have a good time. The tequila will help! Come on.” He pulled Anna down with him and like always I followed behind.

He was living here. Walking the cobbled steps and riding trams up city streets built on burning rolling hills. Michael moved here from Ohio for med school. He couldn’t get in anywhere stateside and heard about the school from one of his father’s colleagues. This was the first time we were seeing him in three months. Anna and I flew in together the night before.

Descending the steps and out of the shade into the testing sun, a fuller woman stood in black pants, white sleeveless collar, with her arms crossed, seemingly bored and completely unbothered by the scorching heat; presumably waiting for patrons to arrive.

“Ola,” said Michael, with his American accent. The woman rolled her eyes and responded with an, Ola senior.

We walked through a tight blue door and I gave the broad woman a nervous smile that resulted in more eye rolling.

The bar was a dimly lit hole in the wall. There was lively ethnic music on in the background and a soccer match played in the corner above a wooden bar and dusty bottles on an ancient TV.

“Didn’t I tell you,” said Michael. “Didn’t I tell you it was authentic? We come here at least once a week to get away from studying. There’s a guy Ernesto here who’s the-” and before he could finish his sentence a white swinging door opened revealing, “Ernesto!” shouted Michael, and he and the man embraced. I smiled and looked over at Anna who smiled too.

“Ernesto, they’re here! They made it. This is my best friend Anthony,” said Michael, grabbing me by the shoulders. Ernesto and I shook hands. “And this Ernesto- this is my beautiful girlfriend, the love of my life, Anna.” My stomach churned. Ernesto took a moment and looked her up and down and then pulled her in for a hug and kissed her twice on both cheeks.

We sat at the wooden bar and pounded back tequila and rum and cokes. Ernesto laughed at the sun burn developing on my nose and forehead, and complemented Anna’s already beautifully sun kissed skin.

“To the three amigos,” cheersed Michael. We drank.

“To my best friend Tony boy coming all this way to see me,” cheersed Michael. We drank.

“To my beautiful and loyal girlfriend Anne, who I miss so much. Salud!” We drank.

“Excuse me,” said Anna and stepped outside through the blue door, a burst of light sobering through.

“I should go check on her,” I said. As I stood, Michael pulled me back down.

“You been taking care of her like I asked?”

There was a long pause.

“I have.”

“Good boy,” he said. “I have to piss.” And he left for the bathroom.

Outside and a little bit further down the slope I found Anna crossed armed, her one leg bent behind her, leaning against a stores façade. There were trails on her soft cheeks fading away. I nearly stumbled past her down those damn steps and she caught me with a hug.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” she replied.

“It’ll be alright.”

“He’s good, he really is. But he’s absolutely clueless.”

“We bought the tickets before any of this even happened.” I hiccuped and she laughed.

“I’m drunk,” I said.

“I know. Me too, a little.”

“I like your dress.”

“Thank you.” She nestled her head against my chest and I kissed her sandy hair.

“We still have five more days to tell him.”