Present and passionate: an interview with Leemore Malka

For Decent Company February: LUSTLeemore Malka will be performing Little Cold Splashes, a woozy series of memories about a perfectly wrong relationship. Leemore sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to talk about the power of memories, the pain of heartbreak in France, and her hopes for the future.

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JOSH BOERMAN: So, the piece that you’re writing and performing this month is all about moments, sort of how we remember those moments, how those little moments can make big impacts on us.

And I’ve known you for a while now, and I know that you’re the kind of person who really savors those moments and memories and really takes them in and tries to make something special, in your memory, out of them. So I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about memories and what they mean to you, and how they sort of affect what you do and where you go every day.

LEEMORE MALKA: I think when I was in acting school, you know, 18, 19, 20, is when I really started being exposed to the idea of being present, and what it meant to be fully present in the world and experiencing everything in a very pure way. And that a way to kind of get magic out of life would be to just be in the moment. And at the same time, I had started doing yoga, and that philosophy was coming to me a lot from there as well.

And I think that just had such a massive impact on me, in a way that— I think even since I was very young, I considered myself, like, a very sentimental person, once I understood what I meant. You know, I always liked my little keepsakes and my little things, and I always liked to write and commemorate things, which I think is a big reason of why I write: to commemorate those things and put them down in writing.

But I think that being present, once you’re aware of that, it becomes a challenge to stop being aware of it as well, because sometimes it can be painful, like you see in my piece a little bit. Where you’re so present in the moment, but you’re aware that this is just this, for this moment.

And being present really is about those moments. So I think that it’s about cultivating a willingness to let go. To be in that moment fully, and then let it pass.

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JB: That’s interesting that you say that, because I was just thinking about how sort of the classic existentialist philosophy is “Live in every moment to the fullest.” But you can’t really do that. You can’t— you can’t— can you? I mean, is that something that you can do? Is that possible?

LM: I think if you were, like, Sartre or Camus and you were walking down the streets in the flâneur fashion, like, drunk with nowhere to be, yes. But we don’t have that luxury here in New York City where we’re all trying to pay rent, do we? (LAUGH) I think you sort of develop a nose for it, and you know, I’ll hear this little voice in my head going “Oh, this is really amazing. Just focus on this. Just be here on this.”

And then you get sort of addicted to those moments. You become sort of like a junkie for those moments. (LAUGHS)

JB: And then there’s a lot of pain that comes along when you have to let go of those moments as well.

LM: Absolutely. I struggle with that a lot. And they’re not conducive to each other. Being present should come with letting go, so that you can become present for the next moment, and I feel like I’m very much down with being present and having a great time, but then I get very attached to that experience, and to the people involved, is something I’ve struggled with.

JB: So tell me about an experience that you’ve had that you can’t let go of. Like, you don’t wanna let go of it because it means so much to you.

LM: An experience that I think of when you say that is that I lived in France after I graduated from college. So yeah, I lived in Paris, I traveled a lot, I was working for a family there. And the last three weeks that I lived there, the family I worked for, they left, and they went on a month-long vacation. And I lived in a four-story house alone. By myself. They just, like, left me—

JB: In France?

LM: In Paris, yeah. In a beautiful, 1934, like, huge house. And it was incredible and terrifying. I grew up in the Bronx, as you know, so I grew up in little tiny apartments all my life. So suddenly living in a house where my room was on the ground floor was terrifying.

And six days before I moved home, I went to a party at a friend’s house, and I met somebody. And we spent the next couple of days together, and he knew I was leaving, obviously, very shortly afterwards. He was French and tall, and dark, handsome, Romanian—

JB: Classic French—

LM: —translator. Stunning existential crisis all the time.

JB: Wonderful.

LM: And I think of this last day that we saw each other, then. I haven’t seen him since 2011, but this was 2009, I guess, and he came to my house, where I was trying to cook for a Frenchman. I’m a very good cook now. Back then I had no idea what I was doing. I called my friend who had had a French boyfriend for four years and asked her if he would want his chicken whole or sliced. (LAUGHS)

He showed up ten minutes early. While I was on the phone with her, I could see him from the window in the street, and there were, like, roses climbing up. It was pretty insane. And I freaked out. He came in the house, I kissed him hello, and then said, you know, “You’re not allowed to come into the kitchen.” But maybe I let him come into the kitchen for one second because I had taught myself that day how to use a corkscrew.

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And I sat with a bottle for half an hour, trying to open this bottle, and was freaking out. I knew he liked red wine. He was, like, four years older than me, or maybe six years older. And I taught myself how to open this thing, and I uncorked it like nothing had happened, and I was like, “Voila.” And he was like, “Oh, you should leave red wine open for like half an hour before so it can get some air.” (LAUGHS)

And I told him just to stay outside. He was like, “What the fuck is this house where you live? This is crazy.” Anyway, I made gnocchi and chicken, no salad. Which nowadays I would never do because I would, like, have vegetables involved. There were no vegetables.

I tasted the chicken three times in front of him to make sure it was cooked. We sat and we ate on the balcony which overlooked trees and the Sacré-Cœur, the beautiful church in Paris, in the distance. And the moment I can think of was, for some reason— I mean, I guess it’s not that abnormal. In the middle of the dinner, he said to me, “I brought you something.” And out of his back pocket, he pulled a copy, in French, of Exit The King by Ionesco.

Like I said, he was a Romanian translator; Ionesco’s Romanian. And I was, like, fell in love with that person at that moment, you know what I mean? And that was the exact moment that I was like, “You’re gonna leave in a couple of hours. Fuck. Okay, better focus.” And then we ate and talked, and he thought it was really good.

And then, just inside, there was this little green velvet sofa where we just sat for two hours and kissed and listened to music and didn’t talk very much. And it was just, like, the last moments with that person. And that was really hard. And when he left, I just remember standing inside the door, and I felt like I really didn’t know what to do.

JB: And how do you put something like that away?

LM: You come home to America and are, like, crazy depressed for nine months before you go back to France nine months later, bring him a copy of Leaves of Grass, and then get way too drunk and he tells you he can’t spend the night with you.

JB: No!

LM: Yeah. After he took me to dinner at a Romanian place, literally with the Eiffel Tower framed in the window, the real Eiffel Tower. He took me to dinner, he paid, and I said to myself, “If this dinner goes well, I will give him this copy of Leaves of Grass.” (LAUGHS) And it did go well.

JB: And you gave him the thing—

LM: The book, and then we were not done with each other, and we said, “Let’s go get a drink somewhere else.” And I felt so cool, ’cause I knew the street, where to go nearby, where all the bars were. And I hadn’t been in Paris for nine months. And then I started drinking too much, and like all evenings where you drink too much, you make a couple of mistakes. I don’t know. He wasn’t down with it.

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JB: Tough.

LM: And then the worst thing ever, ’cause he knew how much I loved France, and how much it meant to me, and my time there. And he kissed me goodbye, and I was so angry with him. He kissed me goodbye and he looked at me and he said, “This is France too.”

JB: (LAUGHS) What?

LM: Yeah. Yeah. It was horrible. It was horrible. So, two years later, I had a boyfriend at the time, but we went to drinks and we had a very nice time. And then he went and he had two babies, and now he lives in Berlin. (LAUGHS)

JB: Well, there you go.

LM: So how do you let go of that? I don’t know. Oh yeah, and he won, in 2014, he won the most prestigious literary prize in France for, like, a historical novella he decided to publish. (LAUGHS) When he was a doctorate translator philosophy person, he published a historical novella that takes place in Huguenot, like, 1556. Some people, they just leave a mark on you.

JB: You can’t quite put it away, but you try.

LM: You try. Someone new comes along, and then you’re like, “Oh, I haven’t thought about that person in a while.” But I think that if you’re a certain kind of person, you tend to live these ridiculously poetic moments with people that are like scars. They’re like tattoos. They just stay with you. I can still remember.

I still have the book, of course. I started reading it, it’s kind of absurdist, and I was like, “Why did he get me this?” And I was, like, crying. It was so beautiful. I read it a long time ago. I tried to read his novella, and I learned a lot about tithing, and there are a lot of words I didn’t know.

JB: Yeah, because the first, like, 20 pages were all about tithing, and so that’s how far you got? (LAUGHS)

LM: It was, like, all the things plaguing the town.

JB: I love it.

LM: And it was, like, an excess of tithing, and hives, and boils. And I was going through my dictionary, like, “Oh, this is going to be a long ride.” (LAUGHS)

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JB: Well, you tried.

LM: I did. I’ll get back to it.

JB: And that’s admirable.

LM: Thank you. (LAUGHS) Very much.

JB: So obviously there’s real beauty in that pain too, though, right? I mean, you can’t have the happiness without the suffering, and I think that’s a big part of what this piece that you’re doing is all about, right?

LM: Absolutely. I think, as a person who has been passionate my whole life, you can’t have the joyful passion without the anger and the pain and the fury and the just, like, depraved sadness. Yeah. Some of us, I think most of us [who] are artists, just live life heavier, deeper, for whatever reason.

I mean, my piece is about that. My piece is about being, like, “I can be free, and I can live and have fun and feel close to someone, and that can be beautiful if it’s for the rest of my life, or that can be beautiful if it’s for one night, or three years, or six months, a year and a half, whatever.” And it’s just as valid. It’s just as valid, and I do think things happen for a reason.

And one of the things, to know that you’re free is quite a thought, especially in relationship to the people that come in and out of your life, and to try to help you exist on your own as they pass in and out. I’ve always struggled with that.

JB: Cool. Well, that’s that, really.

LM: Awesome. (LAUGHS)

To buy tickets for Decent Company February: LUST, click here.

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