Daily, there’s this thing that lives with you, whether you invited it in or not. It’s called tedium, and sometimes it goes by a nickname, like “Ted” or “lease renewal,” or “blind dating.” But whatever you call it, it’s like a cloud, obfuscating all else, making things inexorably hazier and robbing you of your Precious, whether it is something as complicated as happiness or as simple a pleasure as clarity.
And believe me, this summer, though full of wonderful things, was also the summer of Ted. Everything good that emerged from the last three months has had its own process of painful, sleep-depriving birth–none of it coming with a lovely and dreamlike injection of painkillers and muscle relaxers. It’s not like I labored and no one believes me. People know. People acknowledge. I hold magazines and newsletters in my hands, and have expanded my Rolodex and Facebook friends list. But I think–and this is a hard thing to admit–that the minimal sleep and intense creativity might be having an adverse effect, and my recovery time is not what it once was.
Which is why moments of Tedlessness, in which the fog doesn’t so much lift dramatically as dissipate molecularly, in small, barely perceptible minutes, are so precious. These times provide reinvigoration, and spiritual renewal, or other new agey sounding patchouliness. It’s why I’m glad that I’ve come to realize that the people and endeavors that inspire me, and who are present in my life aren’t just there randomly–they and I both are part of a larger story.
Gone are the days of “we all met in college and have been friends ever since.” Gone are the days of “we’ve been friends ever since we met at camp when we were twelve.” Or, at least, those days are gone to me. These days, when I look at a person, I remember our specific story. I sift through perceived and actual memories of our meeting, our first encounter, which, more often than not, was through the internet, or through something that I’d written. A reader put us in touch, hoping it would provide more work. (It did, repeatedly, along with a lasting friendship and partnership.) A colleague put us in touch, thinking we’d get along. (We did, incredibly well.) An Israel program showed us the relativity of age and the importance of finding creative people to partner with. (And we did, intensely and with great success.) In one case, although it certainly gives me no pleasure or ad revenue to admit it, I might have even met one of the members of my creative posse through JDate.
I enjoy these larger stories because it makes me feel like life is less random, like there’s definitely a karma-like aspect to putting out creativity and having it boomerang back at you in an incredibly inspiring and non-violent fashion. It creates within a cynical heart the possibility of redemption, and provides a chamber for the echoes of optimism that escape, pinging about a cavernous mind, and bouncing off its walls. It makes me believe, even if foolishly and naively, that we’re more in control of what happens in our lives than we might ever estimate on a given day.
Which is why on those most normal of everyday days, it’s important to see a larger picture, and enjoy the larger story. Especially if the day in question happens to be a day of Ted.
Same clearing as last time, strangely stark and comfortingly familiar. I found myself engaged in it again. As I took off the backpack, I felt on my back the dampness of the burden I had carried, but didn’t care–I had carried it so long, from so far, and I was glad to have the weight lifted, even if the perspiration was a portent. Opening the zipper, taking out the blanket, I noted the sameness of the entity–it was rolled up, containing everything I had brought, just like last time.
But there were no clouds hanging, no rains apparently imminent. I perceived this as encouragement, knew I was doing this for my own good, for the sake of truth and honesty. Slowly unfurling it, careful not to disrupt its insulated contents, despite its slowness, it had the feeling that I was ripping off a band-aid, and we’d soon discover if that adhesive was keeping my blood or words or emotion from spilling out. The unrolling made it seem like a cliche or flower about to bloom, or quickly wither. Whichever it was, it would be soon. I waited for whatever, and found, if not what I’d hoped, then what I’d expected.
Precedent becomes a pattern you can’t control until you face certain things about life or about yourself, and just because you know you deserve better and will likely someday find it doesn’t stop this familiar feeling from taking over and convincing you that this is the way you’re destined to forever be.
What is it about? What isn’t it about? Nothing and everything. No one and everyone. Me. And not me, whoever me is or I am. It’s about work and love and the abundance and lack of both thereof. It’s about wanting more than you have, and feeling guilty for not being satisfied. It’s about free verse and free writing and free bread crusts that you cling to as essential, comforting carbohdyrate replacements for what you’re really craving, whether it’s love or creativity. And its about being so overwhelmed that you lie down on the checkerboard tablecloth or blanket you’ve brought all the way from home, and hope that the ants will carry you toward a solution, or at least, away from your problems.
The trick with ants is that there are some things that they can’t carry away. And so you’re left there, on your back, staring at clouds that shift maddeningly, eluding definition, but always seeming the same.
We don’t need men. Or we don’t need men to be complete. Or we complete ourselves. Or we’re happy that we don’t have someone else living in our space, leaving caps off toothpastes. Or that we like having our own space, our own time, to pursue our own interests. Or that we have the freedom to just be ourselves. Or that it’s not us, it’s them. Or that boys are stupid and we should throw rocks at them. Or that men may come and go, but our girlfriends are forever.
While there are people who believe some of these excuses, to many other people, they are just excuses. They are phrases that we utter to ourselves to make us feel like it might not be our fault, that we might not be fundamentally unlikable, that we’re doing the best we can, and our inability to find that special someone might mean that it’s just not the right time for us, not that it will never happen, even if it feels like never’s the most likely possibility. They are sanity-preserving reframings of things that feel like they’re out of our control.
And then there are people who tell us that we’re too picky (because we won’t endlessly date men we’re not interested in), or that we’re (I love this phrase) “choosing to be single.” This implies that every day we leave our apartments, pick up our New York Times from our doorstep, and step over the lengthy line of suitors waiting with flowers and chocolates and rings and hoping that we’ll give them the matrimonial time of day. It implies that suitable men have proclaimed their desire to commit to a lifetime together, and we’ve said, “sorry, I really like being single. You know, because of Carrie Bradshaw. And you know, because Angelina and Brad don’t have to be married to have fuifilling lives, and so neither do I.” (The analogy to Jolie was apparently invoked by Katie Couric on CBS.)
Now, you all know that I literally can’t even walk down the street without someone mistaking me for Carrie Bradshaw (even though she’s fictional and I’m real) or Angelina Jolie (whose lips, I’m convinced, are fictional, even though mine aren’t). But the realities of single life aren’t always glamorous in the manner of Hollywood, and aren’t always a liberation.
by a margin of one percent, more women are unmarried than married in America. The article, to no one’s great surprise, hinting as it does at the problems of sex and love, was the number one most emailed today (or as Gawker, in its inimitable style, put it this afternoon, “Also, 91% Of Women Are Now E-Mailing Spinster Article To Their Single Friends.”)
Leaving aside what struck us as strange methodology (like the fact that the survey counted anyone over the age of fifteen as a woman), there was something else disturbing about the piece. It had a tone of exuberance that spun the numbers as an unambiguously positive piece of progress for women. A quote from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute captured the mood of it. The shift away from marriage, Frey said, represents “a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women.”
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re choosing the single life. It means that our options are more open in terms of timelines and in terms of the men who are (theoretically) available to us. And sometimes, this means making different choices than our mothers and grandmothers might have made.
There are certainly women, especially those who are recently divorced and feeling free for the first time, who choose the single life. But those of us who choose not to marry the first person who asks (or who are stubborn enough to insist on waiting for someone who is actually appropriate and whom we love), are not choosing the single life. We’re choosing life itself.
Unless that’s just one of those things we tell ourselves.
Thanks to all of you who kept checking in here, hoping for new content, finding none, and managing to–in the prolonged interim–check back with some other posts and revisit them. There was a technical glitch or twelve, beginning with erratic internet access and progressing to an issue regarding a lost password. But now it’s all ok. And I’m headed back to NYC, where blogging will re-begin in earnest.
In the interim, I feel that perhaps we need to visit the question of a “dating code” among friends. For instance, it’s been said that “bros” come before “hos.” (Or “sistas” before “mistas.”) So essentially, if your mate likes someone and “calls dibs first,” you back off. This presupposes that the “target” in question would be equally open to both you and your mate, which is not–in most cases–necessarily the case.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Consider a tale of three parties: the “target”/object of affection and conflict; the first party, who “discovered” the “target”; and the second party, whose main interest is in maintaining a friendship with the first party, independent of romantic entanglements.
What if the “target” expresses a clear interest for the second party, while the second party might care less and the first party is totally smitten. Does it matter who saw the target first or claimed dibs, if there’s only a real possibility with one person? And should the first and second party agree that their friendship is primary, to the exclusion of all would-be interlopers? And if the first party, acknowledging the “target’s” lack of interest, gives the second party the “all clear,” should the second party employ an above-and-beyond layer of sensitivity and opt out, despite the first party’s AOK?
And does New Year’s Eve ever play a variable?
Don’t pull a muscle discussing this–remember, you’re a little out of shape when it comes to this blog, so re-enter the discussion carefully… see you soon!
Get Jewish Week deadlines done. (One, two, three.)
Hustle for more freelance work.
Write insane piece for PresenTense about dating advice books and try not to hurl myself off a building to avoid having to finish it.
Pray that in the land of miracles, there will be a deadline-related one. Or four.
Edit Issue Two of PresenTense.
Go to the kotel once a week during my stay, put in refuah shlemah notes for the people who are suffering–those who are dear to me, and those whose names I do not know.
Spend as little money as possible.
Pray. To something or someone. About something or someone. Peace, health, freedom, redemption. No big whoop. Just coffee talk…with “the big guy.”
Find the words, express them aloud and in print, in the hope that they sprout turbo-jet wings and fly to where ever they’re supposed to go.
Wishing you all a happy new year, wherever you are…and hoping you’ll forgive me for light posting…
[reposted from MyUrbanKvetch]
He runs through the litany, one after another, in a cascade of whining so cliched that it seems like a mantra or a roadblock in a bad romantic comedy. He’s not ready, heâ€™s not mature, he likes her a lot and enjoys her company but isnâ€™t ready to â€œtake life serious.â€ She pleads meekly, barely audibly, to the man from whom she wants something more. She whispers, her pain muting her words. He prattles on, loud enough for us all to hear. I feel kind of bad listening, taking notes on their conflict, but Iâ€™m a student in the university of life; when a high-volume lesson comes along, I take notes, no matter where and when.
He soldiers on, “trying not to lie to her” and â€œtrying not to be one of those people,â€ but that he canâ€™t rise to the level that she wants. â€œWhy canâ€™t you just leave things the way they are? Iâ€™m immature. I never grew up. I canâ€™t rise to the level. I wonâ€™t do it to you or to anyone else. Iâ€™m damaged goods. My parents screwed me up. I had bad parents. Iâ€™m bad news, Iâ€™m telling you. I donâ€™t have the goods that can make you happy. I like your scarf.â€
He recaps what he wants (to not be serious) and what she wants (a relationship) and notes that the two are incompatible. All the while, I eavesdrop on the attempted honesty and feel complicit in the deception. Every time he says “Iâ€™m not going to lie to you,” the “honesty” of what comes next seems suspect.
“I enjoy your company,” he says. “Letâ€™s change the subject. Is anything good on TV tonight? ” “CSI,” she says, somewhat weakly. Meantime, I perform my own autopsy, on the conversation itself and on these two pathetic peopleâ€”one incapable of connection, the other making a poor choice in her heart’s pursuit. They transition from the serious to small talk about stores that have gone bankrupt and closed, despite the fact that they were a great addition to the neighborhood. After some deliberation over that most citycentric of conundra–where the original Original Ray’s Pizza actually is–the two pulled up their conversational roots and took their leave of my living conversational laboratory.
As they walk out the front door and disappear into the throng of Saturday night dates on Broadway, I exhale as I intone, “Wow.” I can’t believe that they had such an intimate, personal, shoulda-been-private conversation in a public arena, at that decibel level. What circumstances could have led to that conversation in that space? I cannot imagine for the life of me making that choice…to reveal my soul to another is a choice I seldom make even when privacy is assured. But to engage in such self-exposition before the eyes and ears of my fellow daters and Saturday night dissertation writers is something I cannot understand. As a writer, I’m glad they were there, granting me an insight into the conversational reality of relationships that is absent from movies and TV dramas and plays.
And that’s why I sit there, representing the writers–plugged into the outlets in the walls and plugged into the relationships of fellow citydwellers, our individual creativity ebbing and flowing in a collective as we look to the human parade before us to distract, inspire and spur us on as we continue to churn out the pages that we hope will–someday, to someone–make a difference.
I’ll admit it–I really liked “The Breakup.” Not because I’m like all into the Vaughniston thing (may it rest in pieces), but because finally, it presented a celluloid relationship that was flawed, and even sarcastic or mean in parts. It felt realer than the swelling music of romance as lovers race toward each other across a field, or he “has her at hello,” or “she rescues him right back,” or they meet atop the Empire State Building and know from the second they see each other that it’s just right. I mean, call me a cynic, but puh-leeeze.
It’s because of movies like these that I’ve spent most of my adolescent and post-adolescent life with a romanticized view of love that’s nowhere near approaching reality. I know this, but still, I’m wired to believe that this kind of romance exists. And that’s why it’s good for America to have films that portray relationships as difficult, nuanced, tenuous–which on the day-to-day level is often more of a series of logistical and emotional negotiations than a romantic blur of kissing, hand-holding, companionship and epic music. “The Breakup” tells you right in the title–this isn’t your standard rom-com. And yet, the first audience comment I heard at the screening I attended was: “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back. That was the worst movie ever.” But that’s not what the female, twentysomething moviegoer really meant. She meant: “I wanted a happy ending.”
A new film, “Flannel Pajamas,” according to the NY Sun, will likely also disappoint the disgruntled rom-com seeking audience member I overheard, but may just help us all understand that relationships aren’t all magic and romance and happily ever afters. As writer Steven J. Snyder says in the article:
Turning its back on the sentimental for the universal, this isn’t a pick-meup tale of how we wish life was, but a loving embrace of a movie made by filmmakers who know a thing or two about how it actually is [...] What’s powerful about “Flannel Pajamas” is that these two remind of us of flawed couples we know â€” personalities of people who fit together, but not perfectly. Like trying to force a puzzle piece into a spot it doesn’t fit, Stuart [Justin Kirk] and Nicole [Julianne Nicholson] function if they push as hard as they can to make their relationship work, but without the added effort, they will never be what the other needs. And yet they try, committed to building something that’s more good than bad, believing that affection is enough to overcome the obstacles of family, friends, dreams, and emotions. Amid this struggle, “Flannel Pajamas” becomes one of the few movie romances to own up to the truth: In the end, marriage is about a whole lot more than just love.
Wouldn’t that be an interesting message for today’s impressionable minds to leave the theater with? That, even when there’s an instant connection, love still takes work? That relationships aren’t instantly the solution to your problems?
I know I’m like a Grinch stealing relationship Christmas. Reality sucks, but that’s where we live. “The Breakup” got decent reviews, but wasn’t a major success–maybe people still flee to the movies to escape their lives, and if their problems follow them into the plot, they’re not happy. But is that happiness delusional? And is delusional happiness healthy, in the long run, if it alters our expectations to an impossible level?
Last nights have always been difficult. One tends to get caught up in the details of departure, and within those details are layers of doubt and lingering regret–over the undone or underdone, over the potential for intrinsic change, and for the vanishing moments of the now in the stark awareness that the present becomes past in the instant it happens.
Being here has been everything and nothing I’d anticipated. The anxieties were mostly unfounded, and the experience overwhelmingly positive. Friendships were forged and realizations discovered. To an extent, I feel younger–as if some sort of vital essence were recaptured and, to my great surprise, reinvigorates me. I’m infused.
And now, because it’s a last night of this, a genus of freedom that I’ve lived through the last few weeks, I fear its imminent pastness, the moment at which this becomes that thing that once was; and puzzle at the fact that the life I left behind is again my future.
More characters will be typed, but only after departure.