Two or Three Things I Know About Texas

This'll put color in your cheeks.
slaughterhouse90210:

“She’d been told often enough that she looked sad, even when she wasn’t. Catcallers had always tended to yell ‘Smile!’; there was just something gloomy about the downturn of her mouth and the size of her eyes.”—Emily Gould, Friendship

Three of my favorite things (FRIENDSHIP, Six Feet Under, Slaughterhouse 90210) TOGETHER AT LAST.

slaughterhouse90210:

“She’d been told often enough that she looked sad, even when she wasn’t. Catcallers had always tended to yell ‘Smile!’; there was just something gloomy about the downturn of her mouth and the size of her eyes.”
—Emily Gould, Friendship

Three of my favorite things (FRIENDSHIP, Six Feet Under, Slaughterhouse 90210) TOGETHER AT LAST.

To Z, on her birthday

Sometimes, when Z comes up in conversation with mutual friends, I say a (fairly weird) thing about how I feel like I carry her around in my pocket, by which I mean this (less weird) thing: even though we’re not in the same city—may never live in the same city again—that doesn’t stop me from feeling close to her pretty much all of the time. 

I probably first used that particular turn of phrase the year I lived in Texas. Z was in LA and I was working a lot and when I wasn’t working I was crying. Neither of us love the phone, and it was hard for me to summon the mental energy to write long emails, so mostly we communicated by text. I remember one specific text I sent—not the content, but the moment of composure: sitting in my hot car in the parking lot of the high school where I was teaching, reaching into my pocket, smiling as I typed out that random observation or silly joke, imaging her grinning when she read it; I was sure if I turned my head I would find her there next to me. When she visited, that November, I went to the airport to pick her up and in the moment before I saw her I felt a twinge of apprehension; and then the moment passed and we were running toward each other and I was probably crying (I did a lot of crying that year) and it didn’t matter that she was wearing pants I’d never seen before. I felt all the cliches: like a weight had been lifted; like I could finally exhale.

When we narrate our friendship we talk a lot about the bad times because we got each other through them: the crying jags and the breakups and that time she burned part of her bangs off trying to light a cigarette on her gas stove. But there were—are—good times too: the time we won a game of taboo (and terrified the other players) by only referencing inside jokes and bad relationships and TV shows we’d watched together; both times on the island with H (and J and D and M); the first time we watched “Kicking and Screaming,” the summer after sophomore year, just twenty or not even, laughing at all the funny, funny jokes, as the three boys watching with us, who had just graduated, got quieter and quieter; the time the grad student TA in the photo class we were both taking looked at a photograph Z had taken of me in my bed, then at a picture I had taken of my (empty) bed, and awkwardly stumbled over the phrase, “your bed—her bed … the bed you two share?”; every time we provoked H by drunkenly reciting “He Resigns” in unison. The November Z visited me in Texas we drove to see my then-boyfriend in Mississippi and I insisted on getting drunk even though I was coming down with a nasty cold and Z and I spent hours reading old Facebook messages we’d sent each other during college out loud, giggling about boys we’d had crushes on and Important Thoughts we’d had about books. In one missive, I wrote out DFW’s name as “David Foster-Wallace.”

When we were eighteen and nineteen, about to leave college for summer break for the first time, we hugged and I said something along the lines of “I wouldn’t have survived this year without you,” and it was hyperbole but it was also true. Today Z turns 27 and if I was with her I would hug her and say, “I wouldn’t have survived the last eight years without you,” and it would still be hyperbole and it would still be true. 

Belated

I went home this Thanksgiving, which I haven’t done since my senior year of college. Even in college I didn’t do this often—senior year was in fact the only time I did; I’m from California but went to school in Connecticut and even though we had the whole week off, it seemed like a waste, all that flying—but my grandfather is maybe dying and just in case it happens before Christmas, it seemed like the best thing to do, a good investment (for my mom, who paid for my plane tickets, who still pays for my plane tickets whenever I fly home because honestly, I don’t have the money). 

I told people I was going home and when they asked me why—why was I flying home Thursday morning and back Sunday night; not enough time to justify the cross country trip—I would tell them my grandfather was dying and then things would get quiet and I would have to explain: he’s old, he’s lived longer than anyone expected, he hasn’t gotten out of bed in years. Which is true. When he was sixteen he broke his back in a car accident and he walked for a cane for a while but his bones were weak and he kept breaking and re-breaking his legs and at some point—twenty, thirty years ago—his doctors medically paralyzed him because he was a danger to himself: the worry was he was going to fall and break his back again, and end up a quadriplegic, instead of a paraplegic, so they snipped some nerves and put him in a wheelchair.

The way I always heard—or remembered—the car accident, my grandfather was sixteen, and he was in a car with friends and they were drunk. The way I remember the story, he’s thrown from the car and he’s dragged for a while, and that’s how he breaks his back. My uncle was also at my grandparents’ for the holiday and I asked him to tell it (I’ve only ever heard it from his brother, my father), and he remembered a car with only one other person in it, the driver. In his mind, my grandfather is thrown from the window and lands on his back. In mine, the door opens and he’s thrown but holds on. But in my mind, he’s also in a Model T, which doesn’t make any sense (my grandfather was born in 1936)—which tells you how reliable my memory is. My uncle’s only ever heard the story from his mother, my grandmother, who isn’t the most reliable narrator (or rather wasn’t—she’s been dead since 2005—and so there isn’t, in any case, any way of checking, apart from going back to my grandfather, problematic in its own, obvious, way). 

So yes, it’s sad, because I love my grandfather, even if his way of expressing affection involves buying me a book titled JFK, CONSERVATIVE. (My grandfather still has, tacked onto the bookshelves above his desk, a “Rudy 2008” bumper sticker, but he remembers that I’ve always loved our 35th president.) He made some mildly disparaging comments about the connection between food stamps and Obamacare during dinner on Thursday, and I said something quietly and went to fix myself another martini. But also: he smoked unfiltered cigarettes and pipes and cigars for decades and he’s outlived his ex-wife, who loved spirulina and multivitamins, and he doesn’t seem to be suffering, and we’re grateful for that.

Thanksgiving, then, was four days in a remote cabin in the mountains between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. In attendance were: my mother and father (who haven’t been in the same room since I graduated in 2009), my uncle (with whom my father is only recently again on speaking terms), my grandfather, my step-grandmother, and my uncle’s son, who is the very essence of a nineteen year-old college sophomore: dabbling in rap, asking me about the value of nostalgia, quizzing me on my favorite philosophers, taking nude selfies in the woods with the peacocks the neighbors allow to roam relatively free for a photo class project (his assignment involves mimicking the style of photographer Ryan McGinley). It seemed, so obviously, like a set up: for disaster, for an exploitative reality show I would never watch, for profound family rifts that will never heal.

And then it wasn’t. I’d expressed worry—or, more accurately, prophesied doom—to my uncle before the holiday, and he’d been nonchalant. Everyone, he promised, will be on their best behavior. And truly, they were. The moments of awkwardness between my parents were mostly limited to a brief interaction during which my father seemed about to quiz my mother, in Italian, on her knowledge of the 19th century (“Cosa sai dell’Ottocento?” he asked, in a vaguely accusatory tone). 

I don’t have an especially easy relationship with my father, and that’s been the case for so long I sometimes forget why I resist interacting with him at length. Thanksgiving reminded me. It’s his relentless negativity, invariably coupled with a tone of authority. He’s a man, born mid-century to an upper middle-class family, convinced the world’s decks are stacked against him. He’s actually a good corrective: being around him, I move in the opposite direction: become more optimistic, more logical, more helpful.

His ur-complaint, the younger child’s lament, is that his parents loved his brother more than they loved him, or at least treated him better. Whether or not that’s the case—and my uncle, for one, would argue that it’s not—I also, for maybe the first time, saw clearly how sensitive he is, how truly young. Always on the offensive, rude and antagonistic, pushing people away, before they have a chance to hurt him.

On Thursday, in the afternoon, before dinner was served, I happened to be in my grandfather’s bedroom with my father and his father. My grandfather, in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen, told my father to go down to the basement to get liquor: gin, and bourbon, and rum, and my father, so deferential, repeated back the bottles he was to fetch, to verify he’d understood, and left the room. He was, in that moment, so vulnerable, so clearly hoping for affirmation and love, so obviously not just my father, but someone’s son.

I have a flight today at 7 am (so, in just under an hour) which means that my plan for last night went something like this: go to bed relatively early (11); wake up at 3; be on a bus by 3:30; transfer from bus to subway to subway to AirTran and be at JFK by 5:00. But of course I couldn’t fall asleep, and so after an hour of obsessing over unanswered emails, parsing ambiguous coworker interactions, making to do lists (for over the holiday, though I doubt I’ll be able to do any work at all; for Monday), eyes closed and heart pounding, I finally gave up and gave in to my worst impulses. Which is how 1:30 found me clicking through pictures of an ex’s gorgeous ex on Facebook, texting Z so that she would tell me to stop. She did, and I did, but by then it was 2, so it’s no surprise that I slept through my alarms and woke up at 4, no bus coming, grabbed my bags and hustled myself the mile and a half to Smith and President where I hoped I could hail a cab. I did, and sixty dollars later I was at the Delta terminal, more or less on time.

~

I tend to think of results in terms or reward and punishment. More often punishment. Last week I went to get a cavity filled. The dentist drilled for a while and then stopped. The cavity was so deep that, in removing the decay, he’d exposed the nerve. I needed to go to a second dentist immediately, for an emergency root canal. The root canal cost $150. Yesterday I found out that the crown I now need to “restore” the tooth will cost me $900. Walking the the twenty blocks uptown to the second dentist, crying on Park Avenue, texting Z, it felt a lot like I was being punished for trying to take care of myself. I had gone for a tooth cleaning and check up, because that’s what adults do. They discovered a cavity and I made an appointment to get it filled as soon as possible. I went to get the cavity filled and all of a sudden I was $1000 in debt. (Only not even because they make you pay immediately, when the work is done, so it’s more like I’m going to spend Thanksgiving trying to convince my mom to lend me money.) It’s too late, the whole sequence seems to say; no use trying, better give up now. Because I’ve been reading a lot of Berryman, the line that suggests itself is from Dream Song #29: “All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears; / thinking.”

But life is not a dream song, and there are only consequences and results and accidents. Feelings are the only facts, but the world is governed by cause and effect and even if I believed in God, I don’t think I would believe in a God who punished people with tooth decay. I probably should have gone to the dentist sooner, and I would probably have had more cavities if I’d waited longer: that’s the part to think about. If you stay up late, you’ll have a harder time waking up in the morning. If you don’t floss and avoid the dentist, you’ll get cavities. It has, actually, very little to do with whether you’re a good person. It’s all logic. There’s no plot.

I say this, I write this. I can’t, quite, believe it, not yet.

Yesterday I turned 26. It’s not so very old, objectively, but it’s the oldest I’ve ever been. In the past few months, I’ve had several male friends turn 29, 30, and I always tell them some variation on this joke: “Well, a man’s 30 is a woman’s 19.” And that’s not true, of course, but it’s also not not-true. And perhaps it’s because my mother had me when she was 23, but I have been thinking a lot lately about getting “older” and “being an adult” and “fertility” and “my ovaries” and “having it all.”

Last night, walking home from dinner, I called my mom and we talked for a while. She told me that when she was 26, she felt very old indeed; now, of course, 23 years later, she knows how young she was. I reminded her that when she was was my age, she had a three year old. And she told me a story about her birthday that year, about a wonderful surprise birthday party my father threw for her. She has pictures. My parents separated, and not amicably, when I was four, and so it was particularly nice, for that reason, to hear this story. Later in our conversation, she briefly tried to convince me that I should write the next supernatural YA bestseller.

My plan for my birthday this year was to do nothing, to see no one. I took Monday and Tuesday off. I took my work email off my phone. Perhaps because I am an only child, I crave solitude, need it to reset myself, more than other people do. And it didn’t quite work out that way—H, up from DC, took me to lunch on Sunday, and N took me to dinner on Monday night (both wonderful, generous gestures that I deeply appreciated)—and I couldn’t quite resist checking my work email, on my computer, a handful of times. But on Tuesday, I didn’t make any plans. I read and I got a little drunk at a neighborhood dive bar in the afternoon and I napped and I took myself out to a relatively fancy dinner. I didn’t achieve the perfect peace I had been longing for, but I did feel a kind of calm, a kind of quiet—the opposite of the crushing sense of empty futility that characterizes my periods of depression—that did feel restorative. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

I spent a certain amount of time, over my four days away from the office thinking about my privilege. (Some of these thoughts are collected, in a way, here.) I complain a lot about how frugal I have to be, about how I don’t have time to cook and have to buy weird, $3 soups at the deli down the block from my office and don’t have any nice shoes. But of course my privilege is vast. My privilege consists in precisely the fact that I can take two days off work to “reset,” that I can take myself out to a nice dinner for no other reason than I’m another year older, that if my seemingly unsustainable life in New York does in fact ultimately prove unsustainable, I can always go home. I have a fallback plan, even if that plan involves moving back in with my mother.

I also spent a certain amount of time thinking about narrative. When I think about what I would do differently, if I could do college over again, I think mostly about being an English major, about how lit theory didn’t ruin my life exactly, but certainly warped it. I tell myself stories in order to live, craft them out of the raw material of my life, and what I don’t cull and shape into an arc—which is never exactly false, but which is always more and less true—I forget. For a long time, I told a very neat story about the first time I met the person I would end up dating, on and off, for much of college. We’re still friends, and recently, I told him that story. And he reminded me that actually, we’d met once before the moment I had fashioned into the beginning of what I imagined to be our doomed courtship. Our story was much messier, wasn’t, maybe, even a story at all.

I started out wanting to write about what I’ve learned in these, my 26 years on this earth, and while that doesn’t exactly sum it up, it gestures towards the lesson that I’m apparently still learning: that I may tell myself stories in order to live but the life isn’t in those stories. It’s maybe in precisely what gets left out, or should be. So that’s one thing. And the other is: my form, when I do sit ups, is so terrible, that if I attempt them on a hardwood floor, I will end up with nauseating wounds on both sides of my coccyx where the skin has rubbed off, through friction.

oldloves:

Barbara Hershey & David Carradine
from their 1972 Playboy feature to promote Boxcar Bertha

Well that W spread that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did to promote “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” seems much less salacious in this context (“this context” being “the 70s”).

oldloves:

Barbara Hershey & David Carradine

from their 1972 Playboy feature to promote Boxcar Bertha

Well that W spread that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did to promote “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” seems much less salacious in this context (“this context” being “the 70s”).

motherjones:

nwkarchivist:

John “The Sleeper” Edwards Is 60 Today

How will you celebrate?

I once voted for this gentleman in a primary election (Connecticut, 2008).

motherjones:

nwkarchivist:

John “The Sleeper” Edwards Is 60 Today

How will you celebrate?

I once voted for this gentleman in a primary election (Connecticut, 2008).

For a while—six weeks, maybe—I was consistently, sometimes intensely unhappy. Now I am not. I cried on Friday night, but not because of general despair; it was specific despair, about a specific relationship that I am perhaps too invested in and which makes me unhappy and that I cannot change. Those are the kinds of things that are supposed to make you sad.

The argument—of my own making, in retrospect; avoidable, and dumb, and damaging, from the perspective of Saturday morning—that led to Friday’s tears made me think about a thing that Z and I say sometimes, more and less seriously: Feelings are the only facts. Hyperbole, of course, but when you feel things intensely, as I do, it seems impossible to imagine a future moment when whatever emotion you are currently experiencing will have faded or changed. In that moment, what you’re feeling is the only fact. I have gotten better, recently, at waiting things out. At telling myself to sit still, close my eyes, save that email in the drafts folder. 

This method failed, on Friday. Perhaps I didn’t even try to employ it. My anger was so righteous; I was so convinced I had been wronged, that I deserved an apology, that I should be granted the power to forgive. By the end of the argument the truth had been revealed: I was ungrateful; I was being selfish. And in the morning I was the one apologizing, in an email. The progression was gradual but the shift was radical: first I knew I was the injured party; then I thought maybe the blame could be shared; then I realized it was my fault.

People can sometimes agree on facts, a sequence of events; but never on feelings. This happened, yes; but how I felt about it: who’s responsible for that?

~

Moving has helped a lot; more than I had imagined it would. I feel, out here, by the water, in the sticky heat, surrounded by kitschy, hand-painted wooden signs that point visitors in the direction of chocolate factories, wine shops, restaurants, like I’m on vacation in a beach town. This has not improved my work ethic, but I’m less susceptible, in this even-keeled state, to fall into ruinous slumps. Yesterday I did not do much work, and today I started far too late, and perhaps had something akin to a panic attack—heart racing, difficulty breathing—that seemed to come out of nowhere and distracted me for a time. But then I forced myself to edit, and went to the grocery store, and bought plane tickets to a wedding. It wasn’t, in other words, crippling.

The move has its downsides too, of course: last night I was in Williamsburg and to prove to myself that I do not need to take cabs late at night to get back home, I forced myself to do the following:

  1. Take the G from Lorimer to Bedford-Nostrand
  2. Get out at Bedford-Nostrand and transfer to a second G train, which took me as far as Hoyt-Schermorhorn
  3. Take an A one stop from Hoyt-Schermerhorn to a station whose name I am now incapable of remembering, but from where it was possible to take an F.
  4. Get on an F, which turned out to be an express, which took me to 7th Ave., which was one stop too far.
  5. Get on a second F, going back into Manhattan, for one stop.
  6. Get off at 4th and 9th, wait twenty-five minutes for the B61, which took me home.

It cost me no money, and I got a lot of work reading done while pacing in subway stations. It also took me 2 and a half hours.

In therapy, I feel as if there is nothing left to talk about. I am fine, if wary. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.