The Eyes of Tbilisi


So much of the job of the writer is to be what Emerson calls the ”transparent eyeball.”  I’d add that the post requires being both in the word and sideline witness to it.  However, in Tbilisi, a largely homogenous city, I have been ogled like I’m unaccustomed.  I’ve made a life of reading and responding to body language, eyes.  But, here I’m unclear.  The way I’ve been read in this world has dangled beyond my control. 

I came to Tbilisi for a summer literary program, to work on poems.  But I could have done that back in San Francisco. I came to shake up my take on the process, to imagine that writing poems isn’t throwing lyric like stones in the ocean.  To recall the way that poems have not only cloistered me, but luminesced in my soul.  I came here to walk through new streets, to map out a new route and routine in my mind.  I came to revitalize my community.  In supplication to an unknown. 

What I’ve seen so far is that Tbilisi is a city in the midst of reinventing itself.  On Giorgi Leonidze, the subtropical trees rise up above the four floor buildings.  The stone and plaster facades show both the heyday of Georgia’s wealth and the present of its post-soviet chagrin.  Once pink, teal, or yellow walls speak to me through tarnished window arcs and cracked plaster.  Through this debris, life is more visible, unapologetic.  Looking up, I can’t read the signs; the letters dance along like circular harmonies I can’t grasp.  It’s the only place I’ve been where I walk into a near ruined building, and find an urban oasis from Dwell magazine.   Women in long dresses hunch together in alcoves to sell their fruits and vegetables.  They don’t have to brag about local organic sourcing, it’s a given.  Behind every street façade, secret courtyards reveal ornate balconies, grape vines for shade, laundry lines and feral cats.  Scent sticks in fancy jars sit beside sinks on public bathroom floors.  Doors get stuck, no matter what side you’re on.  And people are unabashed with their eyes. 

In the past few days, I’ve sat in workshops with poems about sufficiency and acceptance and the bramble of my mind projected on the world I see.  And every day as I’ve walked down Pavle Ingorovka to the Writer’s House on Machabeli, I’ve been straight up stared at.  It’s made me question myself.  As a performer, a flirt and all around attention-seeker, I’m not against this, but the eyes I’ve had on me don’t carry the same message.  I don’t feel certain.  I’m reminded of the stranger I am: visible, thick, peculiar.

My eyeball isn’t transparent.  I am taking up space, being seen as much as I see the world.  And there is a comedy to this.  To be a great writer, a great teacher, a great anything, you have to take up a lot of space.  You have to look, listen deeply, and respond.  I remember Father Ronald Rolheiser saying that to be powerful in the world, you have to have a big ego.  But to use it well, you have to keep it in check.  He cited the difference between Jim Morrison and St. Theresa.  I’m neither of these.  But I am human, fragile and curious about this place that’s my temporary home.  I am wary of taking up too much space for fear of not seeing what’s right in front of me.   

I’m here to climb into my power, work on my voice; and maybe these strangers see what I don’t.  Maybe they just want to take something from me.  Maybe they are fascinated the same way I am.  It’s true that my physical body is not the body of my creative work.  But the former creates the latter.  And here’s the truth – I want to be seen.  Who doesn’t?  My friend Kaan said maybe that’s the best thing you can expect of love, someone to see you for who you are.   I am trying to see Tbilisi, but it’s looking back at me.  It’s scary, I feel oddly objectified, vulnerable.  But I feel grateful.  I will not learn their language, or even grow through my own, unless I have someone to eye me back.