Monday, February 27, 2006
I'll be damned! I predicted in my column that Gavin MacLeod would one day rise up and seize power of the Western world, crushing us all beneath his iron fist of tyranny (or at least making us vaguely uncomfortable and oppressed enough to need to double up on therapy), and it looks like his rise to power is already beginning! Apparently he's going to be the next mayor of the Palisades.
This is almost as disturbing as the time I made fun of Henny Youngman in Filler, and the day the cartoon was published, it was reported that Youngman had died the day before.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
UNSHINY, UNHAPPY PEOPLE NOT HOLDING HANDS
Damn it, you're supposed to be magically materializing perfectly apt advice that somehow dovetails into my situation and makes everything okay. Why are you sleeping?
I broke up with the guy like you told me to do six months ago, but he's still here. He won't leave. The last time this happened I eventually brought home a date to get my point across. Nothing lights a fire under their ass like the ex's new beau percolating a rich cup of java in the a.m.
Ah, I'm drunk and saying too much. The facts: Logically knew that he needed to go; it ended after I pushed the envelope; he's on his way out but I'm weak, weak, weak. We broke up and flew straight to Mexico, had an amazing sex-filled vacation extravaganza, fell apart. One week of hostile silence, one week of doting affection, now I think he's 80% sure he's leaving. I check his computer history, ostensibly to make sure he's looking at Craigslist for apartments, also because I'm sick and like to see if the girls on Suicidegirls are as hot as me, or hotter, or less hot. It's madness. Every cell in my body just knows separation is salvation. I just know I'm going to remember, with time, what my life is about and he will be, in your words, just a footnote. But I need some fucking will power. If he comes home again and wraps himself around me and tells me he misses me, again, I'm going to sleep with him. I need you to explain in no uncertain terms how to resist, how to stand up for the me I want to be, am. How to say no to an asshole that has a hook in my belly based on his personal fiction of mystery and superiority. Am I making sense? Have you ever had trouble quitting a bad seed because he didn't ever get you, and your pride makes you vulnerable? Wisdom, please.
Unhappy Trails Redux
Dear Unhappy Trails,
Hot damn, I gave you some good advice back then, didn't I? So what's this noise about Mr. Flinchy sticking around, parking his big plane in your runway and refusing to move it? You can't just do what I tell you to do and then do whatever you want a second later! You have to do EXACTLY WHAT I SAY AND CONTINUE TO DO WHAT I SAY until happiness is yours.
The way your letter shifts from false toughness to honesty is really interesting: You start out painting a picture like your exboyfriend is a needy leech who you can't scrape out of your apartment to save you life. You talk about bringing another guy home, just so your ex will get the message and get lost.
Then, after all that casual bluster, you admit you're drunk and saying too much, then tell the real story: Your boyfriend -- not even exboyfriend, not at all -- knows how to manipulate you into letting him stick around. He tells a great story about himself, and you can't help but buy it because your stories involve a sad, pathetic woman who's growing old too fast. He sees himself as this romantic figure, this hero, this fantastically appealing devil of a guy who's going to win people over wherever he goes, and you can't help but cling to that, because your story is so drippy and empty and there's a big hole shot through the middle of it. Being alone, for you, is like choosing to read Sylvia Plath poems in the dark instead of going out into the world with a big, bright, shining hero of a guy.
I'm not pretending this isn't obvious to you - you said the same things yourself - I'm just reviewing what we know. I just think the shift between the tough, wishful fantasy of "I'll just bring another guy home, that'll show him" and the more vulnerable "Why do I continue to fall back into this?" is a reflection of your larger struggle between two selves: The tough, whatever, Fuck You Leave self and the more vulnerable, uncertain self who wants to be reassured that you're worthy of him. It seems like these two sides to your personality are dramatically segregated, and it's your challenge to bring a little more toughness and sense to your vulnerable side, and a little more vulnerability and honesty to your tough, slightly full of shit blustering side.
But let's get to your question: "Have you ever had trouble quitting a bad seed because he didn't ever get you, and your pride makes you vulnerable?" Hoo, doggy, have I ever. The irony of being in a losing situation is that, you don't want to get out of it because then you'll have to admit that you lost. You're always holding out for a victory - you want him to get you, it's so close. You just know that he's going to stop one day and see: "Oh my god, she's really smart and complicated and there's no one else like her! It all makes sense, she's so special, why have I been so preoccupied by these slut monkeys online, why have I been so flinchy, when my girl has it all? I've been blind, I tell you, blind blind blind!"
Meanwhile, even if he had an epiphany of that magnitude, it wouldn't matter, because no one is going to matter all that much to a guy like that. He's the star of his story, you're just a prop assistant. Sure, he misses his prop assistant when the props get all mixed up and it's wildly inconvenient to him. He goes for a few days without sleeping with you and he wants to sleep with you again. But once he finds another prop assistant/girlfriend, do you really think he's going to miss you? Do you really think he's going to say, "This one is super hot but she's not nearly as smart and thoughtful as you are and that made me realize: You were the one! You had so much to say, so much going on inside of you, so many ideas about the world, and even though I basically didn't pay all that much attention to those things when we were going out, even though I never really noticed half the time, now I'm a completely different person, because I've seen the light!"
You have more instruments and panels on board than he has use for, and this makes you feel like your extra features - your wit, your intelligence, your complicated thoughts - are all useless. He's inadvertently chipped away at your ego, and the more he chips away at it, the less you like yourself, the more you want his approval, the more you go pandering for his attention and good graces, the less you like yourself, etc. It sounds sick and wrong, but most women have been caught in this terrible cycle more than once, and very very few of us are immune to it.
Here's the main thing to remember: He'll never get you, ever, and even if he did, you'd dump him immediately. You're trying to redeem yourself, and secretly trying to prove to him that he's not the mystery hero that he thinks he is, and you're going to fail on both fronts as long as you're with him.
So. What can you do to start changing your story? How can you start to see him as the self-deluded, shallow dude that he is? He might be perfectly nice and perfectly reasonable, but do you really want to continue to feel that big pieces of your self are utterly uninteresting or worthless? Again, he has no use for most of the good things about you. He never will. Do you have any use for the good things about you? You're going to have to dig them out of the dank corners where you buried them in your quest to become his dream girl and appeal to him.
Ask yourself how you might appeal to yourself. Paint a picture of yourself in a good, happy life that doesn't involve a man. What else is in the picture? What are you spending your time doing? Which of your friends are there? What makes you happy? Even if a lot of the elements seem fantastical, complete the picture. What is your image of a rich, independent life for a woman? What about in five years, what would you want the picture to look like?
Now think about where you are now. Listen to the way this guy talks to you, the things he says that indicate how insignificant you are relative to the vast majority of things that he thinks and talks about.
Once, a long time ago, I went out to dinner with a boyfriend, and all of a sudden, halfway through a conversation, I thought, "It's beneath me, to be with someone who has such a limited sense of what I'm about, who has such a limited capacity to understand or appreciate me, who sees me as lacking in "mystery" because I'm honest with him, because I have ideas, because I don't constantly leave him guessing." I was filled with this sense of injustice and anger, not really at him, but at myself for tolerating the company of someone who wasn't remotely equipped to appreciate my best qualities. I appreciated him, and pretty much focused on that for two years, and some part of me thought that was enough.
It's not enough. You don't have to be worshipped, but if you're going to spend your life with someone, they should have the ability to at least get you, to see you, to recognize the features that set you far and above the sprawling slutburgers on their computer screens. And look, that ex still thinks of me in the same limited terms. Dumping him on his ass didn't change a thing. Sure, he feels wistful occasionally, just like your guy misses you, but that's about his loneliness and the holes in his life, it has absolutely nothing to do with me specifically. Even when I was with him, the part that had to do with me was very, very small.
When he comes crawling back to you, remind yourself of how little you matter, really. When he says he misses you, imagine him, missing women in general, and knowing that you're the one who'll fuck him. He cherishes the memories, sure - he was there, after all; it had to be special - but it's still not about you. Nothing is about you. No wonder you feel old and invisible. Is this how you plan to live your life?
Stop sleeping with him to win his love and understanding - you'll never get it. Stop telling the same old story to your friends about how you took him back again, just because it's dramatic and sad and seems important. Everyone is losing respect for you, yourself included, obviously. The place you're in is demeaning and it's beneath you. I know it's difficult, but it's not that difficult. Shut up and focus: Give him a date to move out, and put your energy into your own recovery.
You're smart as a whip and you deserve better. You already know that. Just try to see him clearly in those crucial moments when he goes all sweet on you, because he's not seeing you at all, ever. Build your own vision of yourself instead, and make your true story much more colorful and exciting than his fictional one.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!
Yes, I agree it's a terrible holiday, one that gets used as an unsavory litmus test of love by couples and as a blunt weapon for bludgeoning singles. Everything about it - the red hearts, the little cupids, the red roses - incites suicidal ideation in 9 out of 10 humans. Nobody wants to partake, yet so many do. It's dirty and shameful.
But you know what isn't dirty or shameful at all, not remotely dirty or shameful, in fact? Teaching your dog to say "Ri rove roooo!" Happy honky heart day, honkies!
Monday, February 13, 2006
I think you are top notch, a real class act, and all around grade-A advice lady. I'm hoping you can offer me some encouragement/ a proper perspective on this problem.
Very recently my bestest girlfriend's father died after a long battle with cancer. She's the type of girlfriend for whom the price of an hour-long, trans-pacific phone call is of no concern when your boyfriend leaves you. She's the one who will drive your ass to the airport at 4:30 am and hold your hand during the scary parts of March of the Penguins. She's extra special and also too young (26) to be going through this. Okay, really, I'm feeling I'm too young to be thinking about MY parents dying, but she's young too.
So, back on track here, I've already sent flowers, written condolence cards to the family, started mentally putting together the care package for when she gets back in town. I want to take care of her the best I can and offer all the support and love I've got, but there's a very loud voice in my head screaming "You're going to fuck this up and make it worse!" And it's keeping me in place when I should be moving quickly.
What's up with that?
Rabbit, how do I get past the completely helpless feeling of not knowing what to say or do or not say or not do? How do I stop feeling inadequate and start being useful? How do I bring her laughter and not offend her? How do I talk about her Dad and not make her want to throw something at me? How do I properly distract her while respecting what she's going through? How do I just be a very good friend when I feel paralyzed? How do I get over the part about ME and concentrate on the part about HER?
I need perspective and I need it bad. In the past I've been able to dive headÂ first into difficult situations, and I've always come out alive and with all my limbs intact. I know everyone has a hard time expressing condolences and nurturing someone through mourning, so how do I suck it up and get past the feelings of complete inadequacy?
Thank you for a firm butt-kicking,
My Friend's in Need
I can't believe you called me a lady.
Nonetheless, you came to the right lady. My dad died of a heart attack, out of the blue, when I was 25. He was extremely fit, busy, happy, successful, single, he traveled a lot. His life was good. And then he was dead.
This is the thing about the premature death of someone you love a lot: It sucks. That's where it starts and that's where it ends. It sucks, sucks, sucks. It sucks in the morning, it sucks in the afternoon, it sucks at night. Sucks. You don't need to know how to do anything, really. All you need to know is that it sucks.
When a close family member dies, your friends don't know what to do. You know that they don't know what to do, but you're in too much pain to help them through that, and a part of you just feels like fuck you, figure it out. I know that's a bad attitude, but when you're that young, people are pretty dumb about handling heavy shit. Lots of my friends were really good about it, they called, they sent flowers (sending food is sometimes good, by the way - watching a room filled with flowers wilting can be a little rough), they told me I could call them at any time. But, a few friends blew it. They avoided me, because they were uncomfortable. I understood at the time, but it still really pissed me off, because when your life feels like it's in pieces and people are treating you like you're dipped in shit? That fucking sucks. I understand it, I understood it, but it's lame. Then again, some friends avoid you because they don't feel close enough to you to deal with it. And that's actually fine - sometimes it takes some high stakes to figure out who your real friends are, and it would be uncomfortable for someone to have to help you when they don't feel close enough to you to help you.
But the main thing for a close friend to remember is: Don't avoid her. The It sounds like you already know not to do that - you're tackling this head-on, and that's good. You're taking it seriously. You're already a good friend.
In general, all you do is show up. Let her lead. You don't have to manage her or make her laugh or be a counselor or anything. You don't have to know what to do. All you have to do is show up. Ask her what she needs. Repeat things back to her. She says it sucks, you say it sucks. She says her father is an angel who's with her all the time, you ask what it's like, how does it feel?
There aren't that many ways you can go wrong, if you're facing it. Don't push her to feel if she's not feeling anything, don't distract her from what she's feeling if she doesn't want to be distracted. Personally, after the first week of hell, I mostly wanted to watch insanely sad movies, read insanely sad books, listen to insanely sad music, and eat really good food. I went on long runs, I joked around with my friend Steve, I slept late, I tried to write and couldn't.
Although you really can't fuck up, in general, there are a few things you probably shouldn't say: 1) "How close were you and your dad? Did you talk a lot?" (As if to assess how sad or not sad the person should be.) 2) "You'll feel better soon, don't worry." (Uh, wrong.) 3) "Man, I just don't know what to say. What do you say? I don't know. I don't know what to tell you." (Not really that interested in hearing how difficult it is for a person to find the right words. "That really sucks" will do just fine.) 4) "You know, death is just a part of life." (Pretty much any cliché about death is a bad idea. Let her talk that way if she wants. It's not your job to offer a little phrasebook of chipper existentialism.) 5) "I know exactly how you feel. When my grandfather died..." (Uh, your grandfather was, what, 89?)
But that said, even these things aren't really huge fouls. OK, asking how close someone was to their parent? If you two are close friends, you already know the answer to that, and if you're not close friends, it's really none of your business and feels a little invasive when someone just died. It ends up sounding like "Give me some sense of how devastated you are, please." Even if that's not what it means, that's how it sounds. Unless you were abused, if you lose your dad, you're devastated. Period.
But take it easy. Remember, you're her close friend. You care. You're not going to fuck up. Just get her on the phone and ask how she's feeling, what she's going through, how she's been spending her time. I had a close friend who happened to live in my hometown, and I would just tell him all the terrible and absurd and funny shit that happened every day. Also, keep in mind, when you're absolutely miserable 23 hours a day, you might just seem slightly cheery during the one hour you talk to your close friends about the insane shit that's happening to you. It's not always about feeling sad with your friend - although obviously that will be part of it.
Just make it clear that you don't know what she's going through, and you'll probably say the wrong thing at some point, but you're totally, completely there for her, and you'd love to hear about what's going on with her. Being there for her means hearing about depressing shit, it means making it clear, day after day, that you're willing to hear about it, that you want to hear about it, that you're not going to avoid it because it's scary or morbid or depressing.
And when she gets back, ask her what she wants to do. If she says nothing, ask if she wants you to do nothing with her. Can you bring over Thai food and a terribly sad movie? Can you bring over a six pack and watch "The Daily Show" together? Eventually, you two will figure out how to navigate your time, and it will probably look like the time you spent together before, only she'll be up and down and then very down. Just stay present and close and make sure to show that you're ok with the very down, that you don't know how it feels but you're going to go through it with her. That doesn't mean you won't feel alienated or weird at times, privately, or even depressed. But you're there, you can fucking handle it.
So - have you called lately? Just call. Call too much. She has a cell phone, right? Even if she's not talking much now, she will, and it'll make her feel comfortable that you're willing to be dragged down into it if you call a lot.
The final thing is, don't be afraid of the whole thing. I know it's terrifying, but look, we all have heavy shit in store for us, like it or not. You have to face it, full throttle. Show up, and face it. Just be there. Show up. Find someone else to talk to about your feelings about all of it, if that helps, but for your friend, show up and wait for your cue. You don't even have to talk. If you want to offer any (repeated) wisdom, I'd just say that feeling terrible is nothing to be afraid of, that we are all going to feel fucking awful at one point or another, and that she just has to take care of herself and experience it. That's my opinion, anyway: You have to lean into the pain. Ultimately, leaning into your feelings, good and bad, makes you more able to breathe deeply and live well and appreciate the time you have here.
I know it's really not that simple - and whenever you say anything to her, you'll probably have to throw that in at the end. She's just struggling to get through it, it's like a fight for survival some days. It's fucking rough. But if you make it known that you're determined to be the best fucking friend at a time of need ever - well, you'll be a big help, and you'll probably learn a lot in the process.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
FUCK YOU, RABBIT!
Y'know, the email I sent was more of a cathartic release than anything.
In writing it, I finally faced everything I was keeping inside - I knew what I did was wrong, the reltionship I was in was cheapened, and the way I handled my discovery was a sorry excuse for not facing the facts - that I'd rather be with a lying jerk than to go back to being single.
Let's get some things straight first, okay? I'm twenty-two, and the professor is thirty-one. And he's not MY professor, nor was he ever. And as fun as pleated skirts and pigtails are, I only mentioned it because I meant to convey that the guy was "seemingly" stable. Job, house, cooking skills...someone with substance.
And just because I found some incriminating evidence, I can't very well jump to the conclusion that EVERYTHING about him is a sham. Jesus, I'm not that jaded yet - but thanks for helping me to see what I could be like in ten years. Considering our age difference, I have to suspect that it's not the easiest thing to mention on the third date.
Anyway, I listened to my inner fucking voice and he said you were full of shit. Maybe it was silly of me to think that there was some good left in the guy, but I wasn't perfect in this relationship, either, and I knew I needed to come clean.
So I did. And he did. So Fuck You, I'm Gone.
Dear Snoop Dog,
Ah, yes. Hero to zero in less than a week! This has got to be a new record. I'm so glad I took the time to consider your situation and write an encouraging reply.
But apparently you missed the part where I defended you, asserting that you were a good person who knew what you did was wrong. If you'll review my responses, you'll see that I was mostly just suspicious of the guy you were/are dating, for your sake. You were too, remember? Or was my inability to condemn you and put your snooping on par with his lying the inexcusable part? Next time, drop by your local Catholic church, where most big sins are created equal.
So you both came clean, that's great. But what was his explanation for lying about having been married? You write back to tell me to fuck off, but don't even give me the "You dummy, he had to lie because he's in the witness protection program!"? I hate to tell you this, but jumping to the conclusion that he's a big liar isn't that much of a leap, considering he lied about something so important. I don't think that's jaded at all - although I have to admit, it's sort of refreshing to be called jaded, when so many people write to tell me that my view of the world is foolishly optimistic.
He was just shy about mentioning having been married, considering your age difference? Is that what you're trying to tell me? You asked him flat out if he'd proposed to anyone and he said no! I'm not saying the guy is pure evil, but come the fuck on. That's pretty obviously a huge red flag.
Since I was once your hero (God, it seems like just yesterday, doesn't it?), you already know that dispensing free, bad advice is all about jumping to conclusions. What conclusions did you jump to when you found his old wedding ring? Sweet Jesus. You're like the girl who begs her girlfriends to tell her what to do about her cheating son-of-a-bitch boyfriend, and when they say "Dump him," she dumps the girlfriends instead. Speaking of which, I'm starting to think TGWOSMSCGYIFOYA was at least partially right - you need some girlfriends you can confide in, who can speak frankly to you about what's going with you. I just assumed I wasn't the only person you'd discussed this with, but it's clear that's not the case. Your defensive reaction suggests that you need to figure out a way to talk openly to other people about what's going on in your life without telling them to fuck off just for having an opinion. You did ask for my opinion, remember? I'm your dear, sweet rabbit, remember? When did our love die, baby?
I think I was pretty easy on you, to be honest. Here's what Abby would've said: "Snoop Dog, this guy is bad news. Put him behind you, and run, don't walk, to your nearest therapist's office."
I still think you're a nice person, though. You're just a slightly lonely, slightly defensive nice person, with a slightly suspicious, less-than-trustworthy boyfriend. I've been there - I was there when I was 22, in fact - and I honestly wish you the very best. I think everything's going to turn out great for you in the end. I mean it.
ANOTHER PRICELESS CREEP'S SAKE
So what's with letting Snoop Dog off so easy? She seems to me like just as much as a creep as professor dude. I mean, she dumps some seemingly perfectly nice guy to "try out the single scene," and then because all her friends are getting serious she takes up with some professor (yes, probably one of her professors, which, if I may generalize, has "gamer" written all over it), and the first chance she gets she rifles through his stuff. After he trusted her with keys to his house. Maybe he indulged in a bit of self-history-reformation (to put it extremely generously) by saying that he'd never proposed to anyone. Maybe he regrets the marriage. Maybe he tells the story he wishes were true. Or maybe he's a lying asshole. It just seems to me that we know no more about her than we do about him, and either of their behavior could be read suspiciously or generously, and she seems to me shallow in the direction of sociopathy (I mean, what about that toss away line about waiting to milk the trip to The Keys?). This girl's a bitch. I think she deserved the sort of reflecting back you gave that dude who couldn't figure out why his friend wouldn't sleep with him. You told him to get laid and talk to dudes more. This girl needs some frank talk.
Plus, maybe Professor really likes Snoop Dog, and sensed that she was the kind of person who would judge him for being divorced (which, after all, her "I liked most that he hadn't been married" comment proves that she is). Maybe he tells himself that one day he'll come clean. Still not an excuse for lying, but fear of judgment is always more sympathetic than cold, calculating deception. And maybe she, on the other hand, just snoops for sport. Maybe it's not because of some intuition that she's being deceived. Maybe she looks at her friends' diaries, or reads boyfriends' email. She jokes about it as if she knows it's wrong, but maybe she just feels that entitled. My point is, we just don't know ... and that chick really bugged me.
The Girl Who's Online So Much She Can Give You Immediate Feedback On Your Advice
Well, maybe I went too easy on Snoop for snooping. But I'm not sure if I agree that she's a Bad News Jane. Didn't she say she mostly felt like an asshole for handling the situation the way she did? That's what made me think this snooping was a temporary idiotic move that arose from the (justified) suspicion that Professor was a lying liar who lies, which he is.
Besides, she didn't say she dumped her college boyfriend just to play the field, she said that after her relationship with her "let's get married after college" boyfriend ended, she decided to play field. And even if she did dump a college boyfriend to enjoy being single for a while, who can blame her? She's what, 19, 20? I did the same thing when I was that age, and if I hadn't done it, I'd be a really crappy wife to the wrong guy and a really horrible parent to a couple of preteens right now, and I would probably be a lawyer. (That was our plan, to be lawyers. What the fuck did we know?)
As far as that part about holding out for that trip to The Keys went, I thought that was a joke, the kind of "I'll get the bastard back" joke that arises out of feeling vulnerable and weird about the fact that you've been sleeping with an older man who's been lying to you all along, which suggests that all he's after is a little Extremely Young Poon. She's ashamed of her methods, but most of all, I think she's embarrassed that she got involved with Professor Poontangler in the first place.
I agree that she's a gamer if she did, in fact, sleep with one of her professors. The college girls I knew who slept with their professors were some scary motherfuckers. That said, imagining sleeping with one of your professors is hot. I think we can all agree that more pornos should be shot in college classrooms instead of split-level homes in the Valley.
Anyway, I appreciate your input. Now go run around in the sunshine for a few hours.
Friday, February 10, 2006
SNOOPS AND LIARS
My Dear, Sweet Rabbit,
I think this letter is best suited to Abby, but since you're my hero, I thought it best to run it by you first. Especially since you'd tell me to shut the fuck up and buy myself a new pair of shoes before Abby would.
After the end of a serious, we-should-get-married-after-college-and-live-happily-ever-after relationship, I gave myself some time to try out the single scene, only to find out that going to the movies alone and pretending to be waiting on my "friend" at Chili's on a Saturday night was completely lame-o. Sure, I had plenty of friends by my side, but I'm at the age where said friends are in their own "I'm-serious-and-on-the-path-to-a-TLC-special" relationship.
So I finally found a guy worth sharing a bag of popcorn with, and for the past two months, thing have been going great. He's older, and a professor, and let's just say that the fantasies are exactly as I had hoped they'd be. Okay, let's get to the drama.
Professor left for the weekend and offered me a key to watch his dog. And I, like any other deranged girlfriend, totally snooped through his house...only to find divorce papers and an old wedding ring.
Now, being that Professor is older, I naturally questioned whether he had ever been engaged or married when we first began dating. What I liked most about him was that not only had he not been married, but he made it a point to tell me that he didn't believe in settling - and that had he ever thought about proposing to a former girlfriend, he would have been settling.
After Professor returned, I poked around the question again. "So you're NEVER thought about proposing to a girlfriend?"
"Nope, I've never been ready for that. Unless you'd like to visit Vegas some day," complete with a wink and everything. Ugh.
I think what upsets me most is how I've handled the situation. Or not handled it, actually. I've put the brakes on getting any more serious with him, but what do I do? Fess up to my snooping? Storm out? Or wait until after Valentines Day and milk the trip to the Keys?
Sigh. This is not what I bargained for when I got back into the dating scene. :(
Dear Snoop Dog,
Sorry for giving you such a terrible nickname, I couldn't help myself. Oof, and that's the way snooping is, too. Sometimes you just snoop out of boredom. You have the run of the place, and like a bad kid, you immediately start thinking of sneaky things you could do. But I really think that it's only possible to snoop when you suspect the whole relationship is a sham and the other party hates your guts, secretly, or is secretly a human-animal hybrid, or secretly hangs out in dirty chat rooms instead of working, or secretly hangs out in dirty human-animal hybrid chat rooms, complaining about how much he hates your guts.
You're a snoop, and you're paying the price of being a snoop. Sometimes it takes paying a big price before you can understand how shitty snooping is. Respecting people's privacy is absurdly important.
But shit, I can tell that you know that, so I'll save you the lecture. You know, I hate to be too much of an apologist, but I really don't think it's a coincidence that he's a great big honking liar. I mean, come on, he invents an entire alternative past that has no marriage in it? That's far worse than snooping if you ask me, and I'm tough on snooping, trust me. What the fuck is wrong with this guy?
Do you think he has kids somewhere, too? I mean, when was he divorced? How long was he married? Is he really a professor? OK, now I think I'm probably encouraging you to snoop some more.
This really is one for Dear Abby. I'm fucking bad at this level of ethical question. Hmm. But I'm going to concentrate for a second on this, and then... Hmm.
All I can say is, I don't like this guy. I just keep coming back to that. How much older than you is he? Is he older as in 8 years older, or older as in From a Totally Different Generation, Possibly The Generation of Men Who Think It's OK To Have Lots of Girlfriends Simultaneously As Long As They Don't Find Out About Each Other? I'm thinking not only has he been married, but he was also visiting an out-of-town girlfriend on that trip, and not only that, but he's fucking someone else right now!
If I were you, I would want to know, even though it doesn't sound like you're that serious about him. I hate to say it, but I wouldn't want to come clean about snooping, either. I'd just say something like, "Um, sometimes, it's weird, I feel like I don't know anything about you, and that I can't quite trust what you tell me. I don't even know what I mean, I just feel like you're sort of charming the pants off me, but I don't know where you stand."
Wow, that's really terrible. I'm encouraging you to be sneaky again in order to trap him in his sneakiness! That's just unfair. But I blame you and him. See what happens when people are dishonest and weird with each other? It just gets uglier and stupider and everyone loses their dignity in the process.
The really bad thing is that when you get into this "We're both big assholes but won't admit it" scenario, then I think you're liable to pick up lifelong terrible traits. You have one person who sort of goes along with your shittiness, and suddenly you can't see any reason not to be shitty. You know, it's like when you snoop on someone once, and then you can't stop snooping because you've already broken that barrier. Cheating is like that, too. I feel like I learned all these lessons when I was 23 and then I never looked back, because sliding down that slippery moral slope just isn't worth it, especially when you're Catholic and the built-in guilt to everything becomes a full-color, three-dimensional part of your every-day life.
You know, I'm starting to wonder if this guy is your professor at school, or was, or maybe you're still in school and he's a professor at the same school. The mobius strip of unethical behavior you're describing seems like it fits with that scenario. So, the real question is, why do you want to be with someone who has power and authority over you? Do you have a daddy fetish? Do guys your age bore you or do they seem flaccid and too easily manipulated?
I'm not making fun of you at all, I just wonder if you don't need to ask yourself some tough questions about what you're really looking for. Because, in my opinion, the titillation of a power imbalance might be sexy for a few weeks, but it sort of fucks you in the head over the long term. There's something to be said for engaging only in relationships where you're learning to open up and be more honest with another human being, not learning to hide stuff and manipulate just to add to the mystery. I don't think mystery and imbalance help you to grow, I think they're ways of pumping a little dry ice into the scene so you can feel like Sherlock Holmes for a few seconds. And even if you don't give a fuck about growing, sometimes falsified mystery and intrigue can trick you into thinking that romantic love is all about obsession and confusion and not quite having someone nailed down, like it's the stuff that's in movies, the heroine disappearing around the corner, leaving our hero all frisky and full of longing.
And what's wrong with that? Well, I think every time you get obsessed, you're less likely to take a real, normal, lovable human being as they are, because you'd rather have the fantasy and the longing than the presence of a real person. Obsession feeds itself, until you're an obsession junky and no available, good man will ever look romantic or remotely interesting to you. Not the end of the world if you don't really want to share your life with a man - and hell, if you don't, more power to you. But if you do, I really think that having titillating but dishonest relationships with someone who's full of shit (and look, you knew he was sort of a sneaky charmer before this or you probably wouldn't have snooped in the first place) isn't that good for your overall, long-term emotional health.
And I feel pretty strongly that we women aren't careful enough with ourselves. We often judge ourselves as being just as casual about men as our culture would dictate that we should be, when, in fact, we're always flailing around in the wake of the last crazy thing, the thing we jumped into too fast and wanted to "be cool" with, the thing that ran us over like a skunk in the road because we didn't follow our own instincts, we let his instincts dictate how it should go. Come on, ladies! Let's take care of ourselves and listen to our inner fucking voices. Even if your inner voice is gravelly and talks dirty to you, you still have to listen when it says stuff like, "Why do I want to know if this guy likes me or not, when I don't even think I like him?" Sometimes I think we're not fair to ourselves, and we're compulsive in allowing men to hold all the cards.
Remember the inner Fuck You I'm Gone? Was that what it was called? From maybe six months back? I can't remember. Anyway, you only get that strength to walk away when you take care of yourself, and stop catering to the needs of creepy old coots who lie about not just having been married but pretty much everything else, too.
That's the thing. This guy is a serious liar, top to bottom. That's my guess, anyway. Why not aim a little higher? Don't you deserve a sexy professor who isn't too old and too sneaky for you? Once you stop letting yourself down by snooping, and start protecting yourself from random, creepy situations, you'll be able to answer that with a resounding "Damn straight I deserve better."
Anyway, that's my take. Maybe we should see what Abby has to say next.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
INVASION OF THE HUSBAND SNATCHERS
Hey girl things! I know you're all aflutter, trying to plan out a super-duper romantic evening for Valentine's Day! Well, why not try out this recipe for Husband Catcher Cake? After all, who among us doesn't love to see herself as a gigantic Venus Flytrap of love?
Wait, it gets better. Check out this quote from the website: "As a Southern belle once said, 'A man can have sex with any woman, but not a good chocolate cake. And this one is good enough to catch you a husband!'"
Ah, exactly: A man can't screw a good chocolate cake! Right? No, wait, that's not it. I think the message here is: A man can screw anyone at any time, but a woman can only screw a man she makes chocolate cake for. No, hold on.
The point is, serving up that poontang is not enough, girls! If you want to trap that man, you've got to bake, sister! Bake like the wind!
"Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy? Can she bake a cherry pie, charming Billy?"
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
HOME SWEET GROAN
For anyone in California thinking about buying a house, you might to check out Another Fucked Borrower, a site written by a mortgage broker who sees one terrible debt situation after another pass across his desk. He makes some compelling arguments for renting instead of owning given current market conditions, and I thought it was only responsible of me to point it out, since I'm always going on about how great it is for a single woman to own her own house.
While I'm at it, I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to lower your expenses and build yourself a safety net if you're not already doing it. I know it's tough, but I've just recently started to see the severe absurdity of never saving significant amounts of money. In fact, what I'd really love to do is start an Eliminate Your Debt drive. Fuck credit card payments and car payments, fuck buying things before you save the cash to afford them. Borrowing money from unethical credit card companies is a big screw. Let's all pay off our debts, save like obsessively thrifty motherhonkwinders, and wear outdated shoes for the next decade! If we're all wearing terrible shoes, maybe we'll forget what cool shoes look like.
If you're not all charged up about saving money, read this site and trust me, it'll get you in the mood to nurture a serious savings fetish.
Monday, February 06, 2006
SPILL THE WHINE
After reading the last two pleas for advice I have come to the conclusion that every American should have to spend at least two weeks in a third world country with people who have nothing but are still happy. No whining about what they don't have, how much they don't make, how small their house is. Americans are so entitled - we should be ashamed.
We Should Be Ashamed
Which posts were you reading, exactly? Because the last two letters published here were written by 1) a 38-year-old woman who was really thankful for her career and her situation, but who wondered how she could get out of a lonely rut, all the while admitting that she's picky and intolerant when it comes to men, and 2) a 23-year-old woman who wants to become a writer but worries, as 23-year-olds starting out in the world sometimes do, that she's dooming herself to a life of financial insolvency. Who said anything about how small their house is or how much they don't make? Neither of these individuals strikes me as ungrateful about their lives at all, in fact. Sure, the 38-year-old has a bad habit of defining her life in glass-half-empty terms, but both she and the young writer are ultimately just trying to make some tough decisions about what to do next.
Of course we're a bunch of pampered fucking honkies who expect the universe to revolve around us. Of course many of us are making tons of money, relative to the rest of the globe, and we're still in debt. Of course we're self-involved, self-doubting and neurotic when we should just be grateful to be healthy, warm, dry, and well-fed. I do think that our culture, in many ways, makes us sick - we're isolated, relationships and jobs are very transient, we're obsessed with owning big heaps of useless shit.
But we're all in that soup together. Unless you're living in a solar-powered mud hut, doing hard labor all day long, boiling stew for dinner, and sleeping peacefully on a bamboo mat at night, you hardly have the right to point the finger at a 23-year-old, as if her aspiration to be middle-class in America is so fucking repugnant and filthy to you. If living for two weeks in a third world country makes you that intolerant of other human beings, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
WRITING DOWN THE LOANS
I'm 23 years old, and I just gave my two-weeks notice at my high profile yet pathetically compensated writing job ($10/hour, no benefits, writing about 1,000 words a day). I'm leaving for more reasons than the shitty pay: After a year and a half of broken promises from management about job security and a lot of creative stifling on my editor's part, I realized that I wanted to try to hack it on my own with freelance work and my half-finished novel.
So what's the problem? I'm terrified. I stay up nights worrying about how I am going to afford a down-payment on a house I don't even want yet or how I'm going to pay for the private school educations of my non-existent children. I'm 23! I should be out drinking tequila with my whoring sea donkey friends. Instead I keep my boyfriend up with tossing and turning.
I also worry all the time that I have no talent whatsoever and should probably just pack it in while I'm young enough to pursue a career that isn't based on consistent rejection.
I guess the basic question boils down to how do I know how much time to give this? I've had a fair bit of success for someone my age, and I've only recently run into a lot of rejection. Ideally I just want to shut all the noise out and give writing what I want to write a real try. How do I keep my low-self-esteem monsters at bay and just suck it the fuck up and write?
Desperate for your attention,
Dear Writer Monkey,
Let's see, 1000 words a day, $10 an hour, 8-hour day that's $80... Looks like you made a whopping 8 cents a word at your last job. I don't blame you for quitting. It's not terrible to accept little or no pay when you're learning new things and making new contacts at your first writing job, and look, you found out you can write 1000 words a day. That's great. But it sounds like it was definitely time to move on. It doesn't make sense to stick around indefinitely without some signs that they want to hire you at a living wage.
The problem is that freelance writing is really fucking hard.
1. The freelance writing market has changed. Back in the good old days, 8-15 years ago, you could make a good living as a freelance writer. I knew people who wrote travel pieces, weird essays, all kinds of fun stuff for at least $1 a word, and then, whenever they needed a little extra money on top of that, they'd write 2,000-word pieces on "Trust" and "Cheating" to Glamour for $3 a word. Dredge up a few psychologists anxious to offer salient quotes, throw a little gathering during which you interview "friends" about their experiences ("Martha, 23, had dated Rick for two years when he began coming home late for work."), and a few rounds of editing later, you're $6,000 richer. Today, freelancing isn't that easy or that lucrative unless you have a steady gig. I tried it for a while after Suck.com went bankrupt, and although I managed to get by, it's really a harsh way of life. Trying to come up with good ideas that editors you don't know will like isn't all that easy, pitching constantly sucks, and even when you have great clips, editors will often ignore you. Rejection is waiting for you around every corner. Which leads me to...
2. If you're going to write, you have to ignore rejection. Look, if you took every single rejection by a guy as a sign that you're completely unattractive and unbearable and no man will ever love you, you'd never get out of bed. But rejection by men, like rejection by editors, isn't personal and should never be taken personally. Some like you, some don't - trying to get into their heads is a self-destructive waste of time. Every ignored pitch or ignored submission should not be taken as a sign that you suck. In fact, editors ignore pitches and submissions all the time, good ones, OK ones, shitty ones, all of them. You really, really, really can't take it personally. Which brings us to...
3. Stop torturing yourself with the question of how talented you are. Like most young writers, you're incredibly hung up on the question of whether or not you're talented enough to pursue this career. I used to think this way. It was like the fates had already decided whether my choice to become a writer would send me down a glorious or tragic path, and I just had to find out, once and for all, what their verdict was. But there's no objective verdict out there, waiting to be discovered, and no one can tell you if you're talented or not. I suppose it could be objectively concluded that you aren't good at putting sentences together, but based on your success thus far, I think we can reasonably rule that out. Which leads us to...
4. You don't have to be talented to make a living as a writer. There are all kinds of very capable writers out there who don't have any original perspectives or interesting ideas, any true gifts, or really anything to say at all, but they still get paid to describe, summarize, report, whatever. Sometimes you have to be practical, and set out to just be a capable writer, and you'll find your talent along the way. Pick up your local newspaper, and ask yourself: How much talent does most paid writing even demand? Not very much, if you ask me.
5. Nurture an irrational overconfidence in yourself and your ideas. OK, so you don't want to just be a capable writer, you want to be a brilliant writer. In my opinion, writing talent is one part mimicry, one part bluster, and one part original perspective. Capable, less-talented writers only have the mimicry part mastered. They mimic - I don't mean that they directly copy other writers, although some do. I mean that capable writers write by digesting volumes of decent writing and then attempting to form sentences similar to the sentences they've read. This is part of what any writer does, mind you, but it's the only thing on board for the capable, not-incredibly-talented writer.
Now, the vast majority of writers, ranging from capable to good, have both the mimicry and the bluster down pat. In other words, most writers are just overconfident hacks who know how to mimic and know how to silence that internal voice of doubt when it comes up. They choose to believe that they're good at what they do and that they have something to say, something to share with the world. They build their skills by writing a lot and reading a lot, and they build their confidence by telling themselves that they're just as good at writing as anyone else in the world. Some of these writers, for example, like to talk about the fact that Dave Eggers is overrated. That's one of their favorite subjects. Dave Eggers makes them feel very confident in themselves. They try not to compare themselves to Jonathan Franzen, on the other hand.
The thing is, Dave Eggers may or may not be overrated, but he definitely has the three elements of a brilliant writer: 1) mimicry 2) bluster, and 3) an original perspective. Maybe Eggers' books have included lazy chapters that ramble and go nowhere, but when he's on, like he is in the chapters of his novel/memoir that deal with his parents' death, it's quite clear that he has talent as a writer. He's a capable writer, first of all, which means he's a capable mimic. He's also got loads of confidence, which is crucial. And finally, he has an original perspective. He's full of weird ideas, he has an odd take on things, he's very sensitive but very defensive - all elements that happen to add up to really solid, entertaining, original writing.
Sometimes having an original perspective can amount to being a serious misanthrope. Sometimes your original perspective comes from feeling like you're the center of the universe, or imagining that your world is some kind of dreamy wonderland of sights and sounds. Maybe you're half-insane or totally deluded, and you find an interesting way to translate that to the page. Maybe your original perspective is that the world is utterly lacking in promise.
It's tough to sum up what having an original perspective even means, you can just tell if someone has one or not by how interesting their writing is. David Foster Wallace can write about rusty nails and make it interesting. How does he do it? He's just an original, that's all. Sure, he works incredibly hard, sure, he's totally full of himself at some level, and at least in his nonfiction work, he has a sense of what his audience might be interested in, and he has a sense of how to make even boring stuff more interesting. But beyond that, he's just a fucking weirdo, and it works well on the page.
You know what? I'm digressing. Let's get back to your dilemma. It sounds like you have the mimicry thing down, because at your job, you were successfully writing huge volumes that actually ended up being published. The question is, can you muster the bluster? Can you find a way, either by reading your best stuff, or by talking to people who really like your writing, or by talking to people who're nice enough to lie to you, or by drinking very, very strong coffee (it works, I mean it) or all of the above, to nurture a little overconfidence? You need swagger to write. Can you drum up some swagger?
If you can, then you can definitely get paid to write, and not just boring stuff, but stuff that people actually have fun reading.
Finally, though, if you really want to be a "great" writer, do you have an original perspective? (And keep in mind, most novels don't have much of an original perspective, so you can still write a novel either way - if you know how to craft a good story, which is half mimicry and half hard fucking work, the kind of work that makes my head spin.)
Are you interesting? Do people enjoy talking to you? Are people surprised by your ideas? Are you surprised by your ideas? Are you weird? Are you pensive? Do you have tons of crazy, uncontrollable thoughts? Do you feel that you're often, internally at least, experiencing feelings that are inappropriate to the moment? Can you capture those on paper? Could you write 2,000 vaguely amusing words a day, if pressed?
None of these questions really mean anything, but maybe, if you add them all up, you can get some sense of whether or not you have an original perspective. Look, most of all, I'm just stuck on this because I think it's missing from most writing, and when it's there, it's really enjoyable, even when the writer's skills lag behind. Like I pointed out earlier, you don't have to be all that interesting or original to be capable. The most important thing, if you're committed to writing - and don't ask yourself if you are or not, because it already sounds like you are - is to make a commitment to your faith in your talent. Talent arises from faith. That sounds like pure bullshit, but it's true.
OK, enough therapy. Time to get practical...
6. Get a job. At least a part-time job. Unless you've saved money - and I don't see how you could've done that on 8 cents a word - every time you sit down to write, you're going to hear a clock ticking in your ear. "Tick tick time to get a job, tick tick." You can't write a novel while this clock is ticking, and it's really, really hard to make a decent living as a freelance writer. I don't know anyone who's succeeding at this right now, and I know a lot of writers. (All you freelancers out there, if I'm totally fucking wrong on this front, please write to me and let me know how you do manage to make money.) Now, there are those who have regular gigs - they write 3 or 4 things for a certain magazine where they have a good relationship with the editor. But it takes a long time to establish that kind of relationship. Again, please, writers, if I'm really off-base about this, let me know.
That said, you should get a job that's related to your goal of being a writer - either an low-paying internship that might lead to a job, or an assistant editor job, something. There are people who think this turns writing into a chore, but I think that it keeps you writing, and keeps you seeing yourself as a writer. No matter what you're writing, you're helping your writing. That's my opinion anyway.
7. Apply to writers' colonies. Writers I know swear by this, they say it was great for their writing and they got a ton of writing done. If you get into one - bonus! - you can quit your job or take a leave for a few months.
OK, the most important point of all:
8. Learn to write a good lead sentence, and only submit pieces that fit the style of the publication you're submitting to. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. No one wants to read anything by a writer they don't know that begins with "Lately I'm really annoyed by TV commercials." or "What is wrong with Oprah these days anyway?" For every capable writer out there, pitching decent ideas with strong lead sentences written in a style appropriate for the publication in question, there are twenty writers, capable or not, who send rambling personal essays with terrible, non-catchy lead sentences that belong on a blog, not in a magazine.
Read the magazine you want to publish your stuff in. Read it for months. I always hated this advice, but it makes sense: You MUST mimic the style of the magazine in order to get published in that magazine. Then, when you're good at mimicking, you have to write something that's better than most of the stuff the magazine is currently publishing. Aiming for the exact level of work that they're publishing now is a mistake - they know and like those writers, why would they pay you for the same shit?
Oh, man, and this is so crucial: Unless it's a literary magazine, you have to....
9. Tie your piece to something that's happening in the news right now. I don't care if most other pieces in the magazine don't start with some current tie-in, you're going to need one to get an editor's attention.
10. Keep submitting. Find new editors. Submit to them. Oh, but find out who the editors are. Sending your work to a writer is not going to help. Staff writers might forward your work, but they aren't going to read it or respond to you. That's not their job. Most editors aren't going to respond to you, for that matter. Just keep submitting. After a year, you have my permission to give up.
But, honestly, if your piece doesn't sound like something else in the magazine, if it's a total departure from what they publish, don't send it. They don't want it. You can write something totally weird and funny and brilliant for them, something that's nothing like the other stuff they publish, once they know who you are and like you're writing. All you want to do, though, to get in the door, is to write something that fits, is better than most of their stuff (but similar to it), and that is very easy to publish because it's tied to something THAT JUST HAPPENED.
Oh god, that means that this one goes to eleven...
11. Your timely tie-in to current events should concern something that happened the day before, or something that's going to happen 3 months from now. You don't send pieces about Valentine's Day to print magazines in early February. You send them in November. You don't send your great piece on the devastation of Katrina a week after the hurricane hit, you send it the day after. Even if the tie-in is a very minor part of the piece, it has to be timely, that means it just fucking happened. If your tie-in expires, find another one. Study this method in other people's pieces, and you'll see that it's not that hard. It's very easy. But you need it, and it can't be old and crusty.
Jesus fucking Christ, do you think this response is long enough? But I have to say one last thing. You asked how to keep your low-self-esteem monsters at bay and just write. I can't answer that, it's just not that simple. I know how you feel, and it's rough, especially when you're only 23 and the world feels big and scary and there are too many unknowns. I actually think that going to a writer's colony is probably the best thing you could do, though, because you'll learn to push through it, you'll talk to people about this process, and you'll start seeing yourself as a writer along the way.
I worry about you, laying in bed at night with your boyfriend, tossing and turning, unemployed, trying to write, but sort of hiding from the world. You sound like me back then. I was scared. The best thing that happened to me was my boyfriend dumped me, I moved in with some really smart women, including a great writer, who I met through a roommate referral service, and I figured out how to purse the things I loved partially because I was surrounded by young women who were trying to do the same thing. So much of what you need when you're young is a good, supportive peer group with similar goals. They don't have to be perfect - all writers and artists are somewhat self-involved and temperamental and tiresome at times, as I'm sure you are, too - but when you're young, the people you surround yourself with are very crucial. If I had stayed with my college boyfriend, I never would've become a writer. I might've become a miserable alcoholic, but not a writer. The life he wanted was so different from the life I wanted, even though his vision looked pretty and much easier than mine.
So start looking into writer's colonies, and take some local writing classes and get your work in shape to submit. You need some feedback from other writers to make sure you can whip your stuff into shape and submit good stuff. But most importantly, stop questioning this. Give yourself a year without questioning, without wondering, without second-guessing yourself. Let yourself off the hook. If it all looks like a mistake in a year, then you'll only be 24 and so, who cares? You can start down a different path then. But for now, protect yourself from doubt. Make a decision that every doubting thought will be banished. When one comes up, push it away. Every writer struggles with this, and those of us who manage to write a lot are just very good at pushing doubts out of our heads. They still come up, we just get very efficient at banishing them. Most of the time, anyway.
OK, that about covers it. I think this means that I never have to write another word of advice about writing, ever again, I can just refer any young writer to this interminable screed. Phew!
Good luck, young monkey. And no matter how it goes, just keep in mind that you're young and life is scary and uncertain when you're young. Things will get better, I promise. Just work hard and have faith in yourself. Simple, yes, but try to focus on those simple goals, and good things will happen.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
THINKING: A LOVE STORY
i haven't had sex since my ex and i broke up two years ago. that and i obsessively keep watching 'before sunrise' and 'before sunset' somehow looking for clues about why i'm still single, why things have gone horribly wrong, why i simultaneously feel like julie delpy's character celine, that she just feels numb, that she expects everything to fall apart before things even start and so she makes no effort and like ethan hawke's character jesse when he says that if someone touched him, he's afraid he'll dissolve into molecules. did i miss that guy on the train the year i lived in europe? i think i did.
i guess also i should probably mention that i went back to graduate school to get an mfa after a misguided but hilarious and educational but way-too-protracted romp through internet IPOs and indian high-tech firm hostile takeovers: getting laid off sometimes and not getting laid off others, watching ex-colleagues struggle to find work when their jobs were outsourced to a cubicle farm in some smelly basement in bombay and on and on. in short, i will graduate in june, at the age of 38, with credentials to do exactly what i love doing and what i want to do for the rest of my life: make art and teach. grad school, though, has been a pretty introspective, selfish time where i've been working my tail off, and i haven't really had the energy for another person in my life. maybe i've been in a pre-relationship chrysalis or something, but the fact is that i'm tired of being alone and i'm ready not to be. but somehow i keep undermining any opportunity i might have with anybody who's interested.
oh, let's see. i'm not unattractive. i have no trouble meeting people and going out on dates or going to have a drink and play pool. i'm not a bad flirt. i go see the art, go hear the music, read a lot. grad school angst help me lose those last pesky 15 pounds in a tremendous hurry. and it put me in the proximity of hundreds of cute, smart (albeit pasty and angsty and young-wow-are-they-ever-young) boys. though when i do meet like-minded or interesting people these days, it's not pretty. i:
1) point out that i am 14 years older than they are. point to the gray hair. sigh heavily.
2) suggest that we go see 'history of violence' on a first date and then have a marathon conversation afterwards in which intimate attitudes about violence and sex are discussed and how essentially i feel women get stuck acting out the societal role as salve for men and their violent demons while he bemoans growing up artistic in this testosterone-fueled society and it essentially sucks because he still gets tailed by guys who call him faggot and try to beat him up. so in effect had this really intense, tempestuous 6-hour relationship and then never saw each other again.
3) go out on a date with an attractive, age-appropriate, well-employed, kind man and then get really really nervous. because what if he's the one. but then come to find out that he doesn't know art and literature and music so how can he be the one? then i wonder how much that matters and try to talk myself into liking him even though he doesn't know what inscrutable means and then i wonder what kind of pretentious fuck uses the word inscrutable in a dinner date setting anyway and judges dates who don't have OED vocabularies. then i decide that there is a special circle in hell being designed just for me where attractive men are having these brilliant, scintillating conversations with me all the while fucking some bimbette who is having orgasm after screaming orgasm right in front of me for all eternity.
4) meet a really beautiful young girl who flirts with me, tells me i'm hot (or that, specifically my ass looks hot in those pants) and gives me her email address without me asking for it. start to think that women (or more specifically, this particular woman) might not be a bad idea given how things are going, but it's totally new and uncharted territory because, while i think women are gorgeous, complicated and kickass, i'm about as straight as they come. but she's an artist and she's really stunning and she's just pretty much asking me to ask her out. so then i email and we make a date which she cancels a few days later. and then not a word since. wtf?
this year, i swore off internet dating, because while it used to be fun and cool and i met all sorts of artists, writers, filmmakers, etc, i've come to the realization that it is just a silly time-suck. and that, maybe even more importantly, i was starting to notice that people were being ruder than ever online, that the men i was interacting with online somehow seemed to think that meeting someone online was carte blanche to be mean. that even after making the transition to real world, face-to-face, the relationship was doomed to be marginalized because it had started in the ether and not in the grocery store or at a party or wherever it is that people meet each other these days. i could speculate on this transition, chart it, plot it out point by point, talking about the tipping point where the early adapters collectively threw up their hands to make way for the buffaloed masses of people who had heard about all the success stories and decided to give it a whirl, bringing with them all sorts of expectations and attitudes that really aren't my cup of tea. who the hell knows. maybe the online dating world has changed. then again, maybe it's me. maybe i've changed. i'm tired, rabbit, and i just don't think that my dreamboat is waiting for me on myspace.
i feel like a statistic, like 1000 times over. i'm one of those never-married, childless ex-career women who got laid off when the internet bubble burst, who then unfortunately did not get laid off and had to try to learn to navigate in the new global economy who then realized that if i ever wanted to be happy i had to grab the bull by the balls and start doing what i really loved. etc. etc. etc. so now that i've done that, i'm a lot happier with myself and am happier that i make things now and spend time with other people who make things. but i will soon have one of those advanced degrees that maureen dowd implies will keep me single for all the rest of my livelong days. and when i'm not writing whiny, self-indulgent letters to online advice rabbits, i do have a sense of humor. a caustic, sardonic, acid and sad sense of humor, but a sense of humor nonetheless. which you've just pointed out in recent days is pretty much love arsenic.
oh, one more thing. i guess the final kicker is that i've got herpes, which i've had since i was 25 or something like that. it's pretty manageable except when i get super stressy and forget to take care of myself. but i've had tons of amazing sex since getting this little virus and my boyfriends have all been fantastic in dealing with it with me. but as i mentioned at the beginning, it's been a long time since i had a boyfriend. and i'm not someone who's wired just to sleep around. can't do it. nope. not me. i don't fuck around. just had some craptastic luck with someone once a long time ago. but so, sex is reserved for that someone special who i hope to keep having sex with for at least some chunk of time. though this means that at some point, i have to have "the talk" with whoever it is that i want to sleep with, which can get tricky because it's never easy to find that right moment somewhere between the first kiss and getting it on. 2 last things about this...i don't know if i've ever completely gotten over the idea that somewhere in my head that because of this i'm tainted goods. and finally, when i was younger and hotter and the guys were younger and thought that they were immortal, getting over this hurdle was a lot easier.
i guess i'll stop there.
have a good night + i hope that somehow this jumpstarts your february-posting-every-day-promise because i've been missing your advice.
hey, yeah. i don't know how to sign this thing. so kindly make something up if you want.
I want to write a piece or a play or something called STiGMA, about how, at every stage of their lives, women are summed up as hopeless. Either through some idiotic study or some statistic or some passing comment or some lame-brained essay, we're given countless reasons to believe that, no matter what we're doing, we're doing it the wrong way. Teenage girls, young women, single thirtysomethings, mothers, wives. We're sleeping around and getting STDs, we're trying to date smart men who prefer dumb women, we're waiting too long to have kids, we're not breastfeeding our babies the right way, we're giving up kids for jobs and then lamenting not having kids, we're giving up jobs for kids and then realizing we hate raising kids, we think we can have it all but we can't, we're old and desperate and crusty by the time we're 30, we're invisible at 50, we're fucking up, we're making the wrong choices, we made the wrong choices, we're a mess.
Our culture doesn't know what to do with women. Maybe we know how to handle specific female personalities in the spotlight - Oprah comes to mind, for some reason. But the rest of us are often lumped together into one pathetic category or another - angry, lonely, hapless, whatever.
Stories about desperate women, angry commentary on those stories, confessional books about post-partum depression, conservative pundits telling the rest of us we're whiny victims or that motherhood is a blessing from God and those of us who discover we don't like it are foul and repugnant she-beasts... All of these conflicting stories will continue to circulate, they're out there, there's nothing we can do about them.
And look, when women tell other women their experiences, when they're honest and open about how they feel, that's good for women. It's good for everyone. (As I write this, I find out that Betty Friedan just died.) It's great that you wrote and told me your story. You're being honest about how you feel about your life.
Plus, all of the single women I know ages 34-39 are flipping out over being single, true to the cliche. Unfortunately, all of this pre-mid-life reckoning is lumped together into one big "they want babies" glob when most of them don't want babies, they just want a way to cement their lives, to create a little bit of stability, to not feel like a lost puppy just because our culture throws single women our age into the same category as homeless alcoholics, stray unmatched socks, and garden plants besieged by powdery mildew.
That said - and that's a lot to say - I think you're buying into the stigmas that are floating around you. You feel like a statistic - what in the world does that feel like? You feel like a number? You feel like part of some shitty, misguided study that the New York Times references for ten years straight without challenging it?
You sum yourself up as "one of those never-married, childless ex-career women who got laid off when the internet bubble burst." That sums up half the people I know, but I don't think of them in those terms, not remotely. I was laid off back then, too - so was everyone I know. People in their 30s reached employability when the internet boom hit, we got jobs, we lost them. Who the fuck cares? Why does this detail make the cut? Unlike plenty of other people, you moved on, you refocused, you made sacrifices to go back to school, and now you have a career you love. Why in the world is that internet-layoff detail hanging on to your life story like a stubborn dingleberry?
Same thing with the "never-married, childless" dingleberry. I know that this culture goes out of its way to stamp this on your forehead, whether it's married friends who fret over your single status way more than you do or people like the woman who wrote to me a few months ago, saying I was sexist for pointing out that women and men are completely fucking different, then adding "no wonder every single one of your relationships has failed!" And all of her relationships have succeeded? What's it like to have 9 husbands, anyway?
The point is, you have to take responsibility for telling the world what you are and what you deserve. You're going to let Maureen Dowd tell you what your chances for settling down with a smart man are? Are you kidding me?
I have empathy, of course, but I think even you know that you're intent on shooting yourself in the foot. You actually flirt with younger men, then point out your gray hair, followed by a heavy sigh? Jesus fucking Christ, are you trying to torture yourself? I mean, flirting with younger men, whatever - I don't really see the appeal in that, personally, because it just feels queer and unrealistic, but then, on top of it, you point out the gray hair? How about just "I'm too old for you," and then you move on without lamenting that you're too old, lamenting the gray hair, pointing it out! Gray hair can look great - I met a woman, my age, with awesome gray hair last night - but pointing it out as proof that you're old and defeated? Fuck.
And then you say that on a date "intimate attitudes about violence and sex are discussed"? Before you even fuck, you discuss the relationship between violence and sex? Oh my fucking god. Why don't you talk about yeast infections and PMS while you're at it? I'm big on scaring men off with militant monologues about what it means to be an outspoken, opinionated woman, but violence and sex? Ugh. You seem hell-bent on depressing yourself and the world instead of getting laid.
And do most attractive, age-appropriate, well-employed, kind men really fail to understand the meaning of the word "inscrutable," or are you dating grad students that are too young for you on the one hand, and then mainstream older guys on the other hand? Sounds like you need to locate some older, nice, smart guys.
But the way you describe these guys - you make them sound utterly neutered. The words "appropriate, employed, kind" have a condescending ring, somehow, in the context of your letter. Are these guys really so bland? Are you sure? One approach is to skip the part where you test their vocabulary and their feelings about rape existing on a continuum and you drink a few beers and shoot the shit instead.
You're missing a strong, flexible concept of yourself, divorced from our culture, and you're missing a grasp of what it means to turn your brain off and have fun. Yes, it probably will require turning your brain off - not because your brain will get in other people's way, but because it gets in your way. Unless you can prove to me that you can think and have fun at the same time - I'm not seeing much evidence of that in what you've written.
But do you want to have fun? You can still analyze and mull things over to your heart's content - you can't turn that part off permanently and you never should, and you should be able to share that part of yourself with other people, naturally. However, if you want to share a life with someone, if you want to be in a relationship with a guy (and forget the girl, you said yourself you were straight, don't fuck around just to gratify your ego's needs), then you have to open up, be vulnerable, admit the things you don't know, relax, look for fun instead of looking for objectionable comments or inferiorities. Promise yourself you'll just feel without judging, or that you'll cast judgments aside as much as possible and try to just enjoy yourself.
That's one side of it. The other side is, be proud of yourself. You're damaged goods because you've got herpes, you're unmarried, you once worked for an internet company? You're just a person. You're like someone who never gets naked, but still offers detailed information about every little scar and deformity on her body. What you need to do is get naked, stand their with your imperfections and think, "Goddamn it, I am one sexy motherfucker."
I don't mean sleep around, I mean work on your story. You're your own invention, we all are, and we all have a choice about what we are. Why do you want to be the sum of your failures and shortcomings? I know you're just laying out what's wrong in your life, but the way you go about it says a lot. Everything you've done right is eclipsed by something you've done wrong.
This isn't unusual, since this is the story our culture tells about us, over and over and over again. Every good thing we do is overshadowed by some shortcoming. Acknowledging that this is true of women is OK, acknowledging what we're up against is important. Calling a spade a spade doesn't make you a victim.
You see what's out there, the stupid messages, the dumb comments, the countless people who don't get it, who want to tell you how you've failed, how they're better than you because they've been locked into the same rigid concepts and followed the same prescribed path from the time they were infants. You see all of that and you say, "That's the way it is. Fine. Whatever."
And then you move on to what you are - separate from all of that. None of that shit has anything to do with you. Fuck the statistics. You have a great job, you look good, you're pretty happy. People don't meet online? I know lots of great couples who did. An ancient case of herpes will trip up someone who's falling in love with you? There's no way it will. Nice, employed men your age are usually lame? Of course they are, but they're no lamer than young, unemployed guys. The fact that you don't like every guy has nothing to do with their being nice or employed or your age - you're smart and you aren't going to like that many guys. Keep looking. It takes time and patience. In the meantime, enjoy where you are now, savor your time alone, savor the nice, selfish life you get to have right now - it might not last all that long.
You can say, "These are the things that are fucking with my head," and I get it, but when you define who you are by those things, that's when you get into trouble. You can do whatever you want. You can easily meet new guys who aren't just looking for sex and aren't mean and aren't too young - go back online, accept random invitations, widen your circle, throw a party and get people to invite strangers. It's your choice to balk at such suggestions, write them off, say you're not that person, or to just decide to be that person, do it, get out, open up, own how great you are, stop apologizing. Fuck the statistics. Fuck the sad stories. Nothing is standing in your way.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
PRODUCTIVITY FETISHIST WISH LIST
OK, this is going to have to be brief because I've got to get up really fucking early to finish my fucking column. Oof. This "I have unfinished homework" feeling is the one really big huge massive annoying drawback to being a writer. It's not good. It would be nice to leave my stupid work at the fucking office. Does anyone do that anymore? Turn off the computer and go home? I think it would be nice to take a train ride home, read a book, clear the mind.
I'm never efficient enough for my taste. Are there writers who are incredibly efficient at their work? I wish I could follow about ten writers around all day long, just to see what their work patterns are, to see how much they get done, to see if they take breaks or if they're cheerful and full of ideas.
I knew this one guy who claimed to get up at 4 am and write for 6 hours, after which he'd just hang out for the rest of the day, do the grocery shopping, spend time with his kid, relax, then go out and drink with friends until midnight. Yeah, he was one of these people who say they only need four fucking hours of sleep. Fuck them! Alien motherfuckers! I've decided that he's completely full of shit since then, but his perfect, efficient schedule still kills me, it fucking haunts me. Why can't I be done with work at 10 am? Because I'm not some kind of a manic nocturnal freakwinder? Because I'm not a big liar?
I usually don't have much to write about at night, my brain slows down, but right now all these idea paths are spreading out in every direction. Too bad for those broad, inviting idea paths, because like the broad, inviting path to isolationism, they look easy but can only lead to ruin - or to too little sleep, which to me is tantamount to ruin.
There'll be more soon, I swear, More, more, more. February, a dreary month, a good month to waste your time reading way too many aimless words typed by tired, efficiency-obsessed childless whoring whoremongering whoreburgers.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
MR. BLUE SKY
You requested advice letters, especially about small and stupid problems. I don't know if this is your area of expertise, but I thought I'd ask you anyways.
I'm planning on having a baby next year and am in the process of painting the baby's room. My S.O. would like to paint a big sun with the sky and clouds shaped like animals. Do you think he's trying to influence the baby to be an "outdoorsy" type? Do you think that's even possible? What would be the best color/theme for a child who will be raised with a perfectionist drama queen mother and an over enthusiastic dad?
I look forward to reading you every day for the month of February.
Dear Hormonal Woman,
Just as Jesus loves all creatures great and small, I love all problems great and small. Just as the Lord loves all the dumb little animals that inhabit the seas and the mountains and the baseboards of your home, I love all the stupid, little problems that haunt you and your dumb friends, from ingrown toenails to the limited food delivery options in your neighborhood.
But first things first: Why are you already hormonal, if you're not having a baby until next year? If you're pregnant now, you'll have a baby in November, unless you're an alien with a longer gestation period. And if you're not pregnant, why are you already painting a baby room already?
OK, maybe you're one of these serious plan-ahead types, like my friend in North Carolina who actually organizes peoples' stuff for a living. She would probably paint a baby room way ahead of time.
Personally, and obviously I'm a little weird, but I feel like you shouldn't buy anything, tell anyone, or prepare anything until you're about four months pregnant. You don't want to be weeping over little booties and teddy bears if you have a miscarriage. People have miscarriages all the damn time, too. No one tells anyone about it, because of course anything having to do with our on-board nuke-u-lar reactors is seen as totally disgusting and tragic and shameful.
Yes, maybe it sounds harsh to mention it, but the fact that they happen all the time isn't personal, it has nothing to do with you. All I'm saying is, you know, cool your jets a little and try to be open-minded about what comes next.
But then, I'm sure a lot of people would say that planning ahead is smart, since you're crazy and tired when you're pregnant. Anyway, let's just assume you've done a little expectation-balancing exercise, and you're still into painting the room now. Fine. You know what you want.
Here's what I think about the sun and the clouds shaped like animals. I like it if either a) your guy is going to paint it himself and he's a bad painter in an entertaining, scrappy. lovable way, i.e. he has a way with color and he draws funny cartoony things well or b) your guy is going to paint it and he's a brilliant artist or c) you have a really good illustrator in mind to paint it. To me, the mural of the sky, sun, clouds should either be funny and weird and lovable (kind of like the angry white rabbit on the left if you scroll halfway down this page) or really nicely done.
Here's the nightmare scenario: It looks like the mural in a really terrible preschool or day-care center. The clouds shaped like animals, in particular, strike fear in my heart. Babies love interesting images - I still remember staring at "Goodnight, Moon" and wanting to crawl into that room with that little brush on the dresser. But now I pick up "Goodnight, Moon" and I say, "Jesus Christ, look at those awful pink day-glo colors, with black! It's like the colors of an '80s-era high school prom!"
Maybe the clouds should just aim to look like clouds. Fluffy, white, nondescript. And if the sun has a smiley face? Oh god, make sure it's not a really Christian-y, sickeningly sweet smile, you know, with the rosy cheeks and the half-closed, deeply satisfied eyes, like the sun is feeling all happy about warming the atmosphere so the little babies of the world can sleep all cozy and comfy in their awful little cloying baby rooms? Oof.
I also don't like the typical shade of blue that you might be tempted to paint the sky, that sort of nauseating baby blue that doesn't go with anything, that shade that you can't look at for more than two seconds without feeling dizzy and bored, all at once. I'd favor a barely-there pale blue, or go with a nighttime sky and do a cornflower blue with a glow of sunset in one corner. Hmm, in fact, maybe sunset or sunrise are a good starting point for your palate. And if that sounds too sophisticated, that's OK, but then the illustration should be scrappily endearing, and you'll just assume you're going to paint over it once the kid is old enough to say, "HATE DUMB SMILEY SUN AND DEFORMED ANIMAL BLOBS!"
I can't really address your S.O.'s outdoorsy thing, and like most myopic assholes, I hate the idea of trying to encourage anything in a kid that isn't my personal cup of tea, i.e. I love the notion of giving a kid lots of instruments and music lessons and recording equipment and tools for songwriting, but the thought of little rock climber equipment for kids makes me a little - Ooog. Again, it's just not my thing. I think everyone's like that, actually - we're all potential crappy parents in that way. We want our kids to be themselves, until they start acting like people we've always fucking hated, and then we get into trouble.
Also, I don't think you can only encourage a kid so much - you provide the resources and you're supportive and the interest will either take, or it won't. I do know that, when they're teenagers and you can somehow link the hobby or activity to making girls or boys like them, they're far more suggestible. I single-handedly convinced a geeky son of a friend of my mom's to take up guitar because girls like rockers, and it doesn't matter if you're geeky when you can play guitar really well. He took my advice and became a really good guitar player, and I guarantee he has me to thank for the quality booty he hauled in for the next few years.
But let's push those bad teen years out of your mind. Colors. If you're going to go with a solid color, no mural, I hate to say this but I'd really suggest going to Sherwin-Williams, because they have a Martha Stewart palette that's idiot-proof. That sounds really sad, I know, but here are the facts: Most paint companies make colors that, when you paint them on your walls, will make you want to slit your wrists. Martha's colors aren't like that. She has very few colors that don't look tasteful. She doesn't just say "Bluish green, lighter shade of bluish green, lightest shade of bluish green." She says "Mmm, this is the color of my favorite hook rug." Or, "This looks just like the weathered wood on the side of the barn on my estate in the Hamptons." Try to push that out of your mind while you're browsing for colors, though, and try not to take her Waspy-sounding, precious color names ("Burl," "Bitumen," "Catbird," "Silt") too seriously.
My favorite cloying baby color right now is that pale, dusty lavender-pink color... Good god, I think I even have a paint sample. "Clam flats" is what it's called, in fact. "Shantung" is another one. Sweet Jesus! Did you figure I'd be this prepared to help you? I've got goddamn color swatches on hand, just to serve you!
I also think a very pale, dusty, mossy green - a pale one, mind you - would be sort of unusual and nice for a baby to look at.
Mostly, though, I'm just jealous that you have an extra room in your house. I can't really imagine having an extra room that's just for a baby that won't even show up until next year. It would be colonized with people and piles of shit, in my house, in seconds, and the baby, when it arrived, would have to sleep in the hallway.
So even if your husband is about to make your baby room look like a terrible cloying day-care center, aren't you glad you aren't me?
Best of luck,