On Age, Sailboats, and (Still) Being Reckless

It wasn’t what I wanted him to say.

We were on a blanket–a sarong, to be precise–and wrapping up what I’d venture to categorize as among the Most Idyllic First Dates in the History of Summer: a bike ride, white wine on a patio, a walk, lying next to Lake of the Isles before sunset and scandalizing some significant section of southern Minneapolis as they jogged/biked/dog-walked past in neon droves. (It’s the Midwest: scandalizing doesn’t take much.)

“This has been extremely pleasant,” he smirked, shifting onto an elbow and holding his head in one hand. “We should definitely do it again.”

I agreed. And then: the bomb drop.

“I need to give a disclaimer,” he announced, clearing his throat and qualifying that it may or may not be the appropriate time.

A small cube of nerves began to gather in that bottom space of my belly. I propped myself up to meet his gaze as he told me, as (considering his age: young, and career/life path: uncertain) I could easily have expected he would, that he didn’t feel ready for anything serious–romantically or otherwise.

It was disappointing to hear. But not what stung.

That would be what came later: after I explained that a part of me did want to keep hanging out with him–due not only to the magic of the evening but, also, to the disarming ease that characterized our interaction from when we began chatting in the coffee shop (“You don’t need Tinder,” one friend recently ribbed. “You have your coffee shop!”); but that another, more sensible part of me feared that would be a bad choice.

“I have a hard time keeping things casual,” I explained. (An admission that, remarkably, did not seem to shock.)

Too, I said, while I’d like to think I’m in a place for carefree fun and that I’ve got all the time in the world, it happens to be a fact that in a little over a month I will turn 31–and that, in fact, I don’t.

“I hate to make decisions based on that, though…” I said. I was grasping my elbows around my knees and looking out to the middle-distant sailboats spotting the lake.

He nodded in sympathy. “But it’s the truth,” he said.

That, friends, is what’s stuck.

Because what I wanted him to say was, “No, it’s not!” or “You’re still so young!” or “Come on, you have lots of time!” (To be fair: sentiments that, a couple of days later, with some slight manipulation, he did express.)

Before that, though, I turned, as I do, to the women of my bi-weekly Boot Camp class.

“Wait, are you turning 31 or 39?” One of the regular moms I chat with and I were side-shuffling the perimeter of the gym during warm-up.

“31!”

“Oh! Please. I didn’t have kids til 35!”

“So you think I still have time to have fun!?”

Of course!”

Bless her — she made it sound so simple.

But I know it’s not.

I no longer inhabit that panicked, Find Me A Husband Scramble that took hold in my late 20s. I’ve realized I’m not capable of committing to someone without the fiery passion I deserve–and that I’ll wait for it as long as I need, whether that’s two months or twenty years.

I also know that I’d like a family–and that the longer I wait to commit, the more biologically difficult that may be.

And while it doesn’t feel healthy or useful (and certainly not fun) to freak out about finding the RIGHT PERSON RIGHT NOW, I’m not sure how I ought to feel about consciously choosing to spend time in something I’m pretty sure isn’t heading where I’d like.

“You never know what can happen,” another gym friend advised. It was Thursday’s class, and we were doing squat-jumps over a step. “Things can change!”

I shook my head. “Yeah,” I said. “But I can’t go into it expecting they will.”

With my (pesky/fortunate) capacity for quick connection, it’s a mind game, and it’s also a catch: I’m not interested in having fun with someone I don’t feel a chemistry with–and if I do, chances are good that it will start to feel like more than only that.

Who knows where, if anywhere, this particular connection will lead; it may fizzle before I get the chance to set myself up for another bout of vulnerability and likely loss.

And if it doesn’t, I’ve decided, that’s okay: when I look back on the previous occasions (there may have been a couple…) when I’ve let a compelling connection enable some reckless decision-making, for all the soreness and hurt that’s generally come later on, there’s not a one I’d give back.

Few things, after all, are more thrilling (more fun!) than rare, romantic chemistry–and for now, at least, those thrills aren’t ones I’m willing to pass up.

Summer, Solitude and the Highs and Lows of Loneliness

I’m good at being alone.

This is something I tell myself. It’s something I’m told.

Lately, I’m wondering what it means–and whether it’s true.

“It just seems like you’re having the most idyllic summer!” my dear, Taos friend J said the other day when we spoke on the phone. She was driving in Oakland, and I was squatting on a curb of Nicollet Avenue–outside the coffee shop I have taken to going for au laits, work and inevitable banter on a daily basis.

That coffee shop, with its warm baristas and airy environs, is one of several ways that my summer (as I’ve told you) does, in fact, feel idyllic: the house, the biking, the teaching, the walking around lakes with new friends and lazing on porches with old ones. The other night, after dinner in St. Paul and some loitering around our college campus (not a regular occurrence, promise–a visiting friend wanted to show her wife and child), P and H dropped me off at a rock show downtown: they left me with cash (I had none), a bus pass (same), clear directions home (I’m hopeless), and keys (I’d forgotten).

I was reminded of one friend’s reaction when I told him about breaking up with N: his face curdled.

“It was the right thing!” I assured him. “I have a lot of support.”

“I know,” he’d said. “But I want you to be cared for, not just supported.”

In case it needs clarifying, I felt, on Saturday (in addition to adolescent, and amused) as I have felt this entire summer–as well cared for as I ever have.

So I told J that In some ways she’s right: my summer is sweet and idyllic and lucky and great–especially from the outside. But internally, things are more complex.

“It’s a lot of highs and lows,” I told her.

To be a little less cryptic: it’s felt especially hard, lately, to be alone.

Not in the practical, everyday sense: there are plenty of pals to see (both in and out of the house where I live). Plenty of fun things (pizza farm! art openings! barbecues!)  to do. Endless poems (about loneliness and longing, of course) to write.

But in the physical, emotional sense–the particular, penetrating sensation that ripples from guts to skin and can feel all kinds of heavy and sad.

What (besides, thank heavens and literature, poetry) does one do with this feeling?

One natural, if irrational response is to feel bad about it. Specifically, to feel shame.

Being “good” at being alone, in our culture, has currency. It’s valued. Especially for women: we’re supposed to be independent. Self-sufficient. Definitely not needy. Being needy isn’t cute. It’s not attractive. (Not that we care, of course!)

And there are people who truly cherish their independence: a (male) friend recently gushed to me about how much he treasures those stretches when he’s outside of a relationship–how inspired and comfortable and joyful that time can be.

Sometimes I agree. In moments, I find the small thrills of single life intoxicating: making my own days, stretching out in bed, going alone to rock shows and letting a few too many Grain Belts enable some reckless flirtation. (Pretty sure I told a boy I barely know that I tried to stalk him online; his response nailed it: “Why do you need to stalk me on the internet? I see you at the coffee shop every day?” Hi, I’m thirty.)

But it is a natural, biological human impulse to crave intimacy and companionship. It isn’t our fault–it’s evolution. It’s how we’re made. And for all of the moments when I feel happy and giddy, riding my bike alone after dark on the greenway or lazing on damp grass, laughing about younger men with single pals–there are also those when the weight of solitude feels almost impossible to bear.

It isn’t. I can live with it. It’s a burden I respect and understand.

What I don’t want to live with, and shouldn’t, is the attendant shame: the feeling bad about feeling bad. The reflexive self-flagellation that nags and tells me I should be fine, I shouldn’t crave connection, that this particular sadness isn’t deserved.

It is. And I’ll find various ways to live with it, some glorious and some dark, as long as I need.

On Kamikazes, Fireworks and Fun

“What do you mean you don’t like dating?”

I was chatting with a new acquaintance, and that gap had come up, as it sometimes does: the one between the fact that I write about dating and that I not only am terrible at it but really, really dislike everything it entails.

We were walking back from watching fireworks in Northeast Minneapolis: the city a scatter of bikes and barbecues and punch drunk kids.

“But what about it don’t you like?” He kept insisting.

I reached for specifics: the uncertainty, the awkwardness, the extended periods of feeling unsure.

“You know,” I said. “All of it.”

A few days earlier I’d Skyped with a friend. Our chat had been set up urgently once she’d emailed that morning: she’d met someone. She needed to talk.

The story turned out to be far more elaborate and romantic than I could have thought: an immediate, fierce connection—complicated by distance. But the obstacles didn’t faze her.

Instead, she was elated. She hadn’t been so productive in years. Art was pouring out of her. Paintings and sculptures and poetry and ideas. She wasn’t sleeping. Her skin glowed through the 2D screen—barely able to contain this newfound inspiration and joy.

“But when are you going to see each other?” I asked, gently. “How are you going to make it work?”

She shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she said, glancing to the side. “We’ll have to see what happens when we meet, and go from there.”

Sure enough, things have already grown more complex. Uncertainty looms. She’s struggling to keep her head on straight.

But even more, she’s told me, she’s struggling to keep up with the flood of creative energy the encounter is still generating.

After our call that day, I got up from the porch couch (no small achievement these blissful, breezy summer days, I must tell you) and biked around. I needed to process. I was excited for her: not just because she’d met someone, but because of the way in which she could so overtly, ecstatically enjoy the place of excitement that it had spurred.

I realized (as I usually do with this particularly wise and soulful friend) how much she could help me learn.

I’ve learned some. I no longer (strictly) practice the kind of “kamikaze style” dating, as my friend D lately, brilliantly termed it, that was a habit in my early (and maybe mid…) twenties. (“Attack and destroy!” he recalled, shaking his head toward the bar over recent drinks. “You had so much going for you! I never got why you did that…”)

I’ve gotten better, at moderating myself: resisting the urge to catapult my heart at every passing prospect with undue (and undeserved) force.

But I can still find the whole process stressful—instead of exciting and energizing and inspiring and fun.

It’s a point that keeps arising along with the subject of finding love and how much of myself I should let drift to it: this question of is it still fun?

I always want the answer to be yes. But too often, it isn’t.

Too often, I let myself get consumed by the surrounding anxieties: where is this going? What if he doesn’t like me? What if I don’t really like him? When is he going to text/call/ask me on a godforsaken date? And then, the layers of guilt: why am I letting this take up so much space? I know: boring shit.

But, annoyingly, irresistable shit. We are biologically programmed to crave intimate connection. Also, some of us are Libras, which means we can’t help but obsess.

I know that it will always be hard for me to evade that sort of fretfulness. I will work at it, and it will be better, but it will never come quick.

Some days, though, it does feel easier to convince myself that there is a way to focus more on the fun: on the brief flirtatious encounters and bursts of excitement and attraction and feeling that, as my newly enamored friend put it, have that unique power to make us feel alive.

On Dwelling

“Just, dwell in it.”

I was sitting at a kitchen counter with a friend, and it was late, and I was sharing some poems inspired by a recent heartache.

“Keep writing,” she encouraged. “And just, you know. Dwell.”

I keep returning to those words.

A few days ago, another writer friend echoed them. She told me about her recent discovery of pages that she’d written during a low period of her own, how struck she’d been by the clarity of that prose; how she is just now realizing the fullness of inspiration that time provoked.

“Use the pain,” she advised.

Writing aside, this is a spirit that has felt resonant lately: the spirit of sitting in the sadness, soaking yourself in the aches that come, when they do.

Not to mislead: I have zero pity for myself, which is exactly how much you ought to have. My life is still wildly charmed–living with a pair of my (and half of Minneapolis’) favorites, back in the balmy, bike-able bosom of Minnesota summer. I have plentiful time to write. I get to teach some of the most engaged students around. I have a standing, weekly date for a lakeside picnic. Things are good.

But I am still me: a gal with an uncanny knack for hurling my heart around several North American regions (the Southwest, Northeast and Midwest, mostly; but I’m not exclusive), caution and experience be damned. It is bound to get some scrapes. Also, I still lack a permanent address and can’t subscribe to magazines like a real person.

So, you know. Sometimes that fragile feeling sets in.

There have been times (times like a couple of months ago) when feeling fragile meant something completely different; times that, accordingly, called for a completely different kind of self-care. Then, I needed to keep moving. I needed to avoid being alone for more than an afternoon. I needed to release myself of any pressure to read, much less write. The last thing I wanted to do was reflect. I gave myself that. I didn’t have a choice.

Now, though, I do. And, I could choose to stick with that philosophy of momentum and speed. It’s tempting.

But more and more, I’m realizing that what I need now is something else: what I need is to bask in it. To spend as much time as I can bear reflecting. Writing. Dwelling in the nuances of feeling. Exploring these scales of solitude as I slide, with varying measures of sentience, along through them.

In a recent Louis episode, (the best/only current TV show I sometimes remember to watch), Louis talks with his ex-wife about his current relationship. Among the several significant obstacles to its’ success, he reveals, is the fact that she, the woman he loves, is soon to leave the country. For good.

The ex promptly gets furious: he’s introduced this woman to their young daughters! How could he do that? Aren’t they going to feel crushed when she up and leaves? Aren’t they going to feel sad?

They’re talking on a midtown sidewalk. Louis shrugs.

Yeah, he says. They’ll be sad. So what?

The tendency is to call this bad parenting; to agree that we should protect children from any semblance of hurt.

It’s a tendency that extends past childhood: to each other. And, to ourselves. To care for people, we think, is to protect them from sadness and hurt. To care for ourselves, we’re taught, means to avoid these sensations as well.

At the risk of stating something obvious: we can’t.

And still, that impulse, to shirk away from hard emotions, runs deep. Such that we, or at least I, can need reminding: that there is value in dwelling. That it is sometimes worth combatting the urge to distract and to avoid.

That the hardest feelings tend not to saturate us for long. That when they do, exploring them is often what leads to discovery. (And, too–conflict!–good art.)

In other words: some time soon, it is likely that other, more overtly pleasant feelings will begin to take hold. And they will be far less interesting.

On Conferences, Comparing, College Campuses and Aspiring Like Youth

“Which poet do you want to be when you grow up?”

My friend N and I were walking around a New England college campus.

She and I were there to attend a writers’ conference: four days of craft courses, critique, readings, and dark hour debauchery alternating with daytime discomfort, summer camp style.

Familiar liberal arts trappings surrounded us: sprawling grass fields, soulless, florescent dorms, red brick buildings, patio furniture bolted to cement. Together, they rejuvenated some spirit of youthful optimism: We can do anything! Be anyone! The world is ours!

This is an attitude that can collide with another one such gatherings are known to provoke: the prickly recognition that good fucking god there are SO MANY PEOPLE in the world who are writing things and how will any of us ever succeed and who in god’s name will ever read ANY of us?

That happened, too.

 *

On the train back to New York from New Haven, I sat across from an undergrad who was also in attendance, helping out: a young woman entering her senior year, she came across as effortlessly social, stylish and smart—the sort of person born to glide impressively through college life.

Still (or, perhaps, as a result), she told me, the various traumas the (idea of the) end of school engender aren’t far from her mind: the loss of close community, the loss of clear purpose. Even, she said, the pressure to accomplish the kind of Big Things that elite universities are apt to persuade their students lie, inevitably, in their path.

“You’re only twenty-one!” I reminded her as she described her angst.

“Yeah,” she shrugged, glancing out the window toward cement and tracks, the somber sidelines of Metro North. “But some people my age have already done so much!”

“Oh, stop it!” I rolled my eyes. “You’re so young. You have so much time.”

She wasn’t convinced. But of course, it wasn’t really her I was trying to sway.

I didn’t get serious about writing until my mid-twenties. Early compared with some, but more often it seems late compared with others—and at the Conference, it didn’t elude me how many folks not much older than me seemed to have accomplished so much more.

Overall, brief stints on college campuses notwithstanding, I’ve found the occasion to feel invincible about the future increasingly elusive. More and more, that toxic impulse to compare my accomplishments with those around me—particularly those close in age—beckons, gathering perilous heat.

It quickly becomes a losing game. One has to think hard to list accomplishments at which thirty-odds can’t arrive: A Nobel prize? (Actually, they can.) Meaningless awards of Lifetime Recognition? Grandchildren?

We’re told, over and over again, not to compare ourselves: that everyone has their own path. That it doesn’t matter. We know. I know.

And yet: we all do it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need to comfort ourselves with lists of well-known people who bloomed late. We wouldn’t hear every other writer make a self-deprecating reference comparing their productivity to Joyce Carol Oates’. We wouldn’t scan the wedding announcements making a certain kind of mental note.

We don’t know how not to compare ourselves, just as we don’t know how to detach from the way we’re perceived: we derive so much meaning in our lives derives from how we fit in with other peoples’. How can we avoid measuring ourselves the same way?

On the last day of the conference, N and I googled some of the other participants, comparing their publications with our own. We made fun of ourselves as we did it. (We’re in a dorm room! I assured. We’re supposed to act juvenile!)

In truth, she and I have become expert at jointly indulging this, the lamest part of ourselves: the part fueled by ego, that maddening, driving aspect. It works. We share a sense of humor about it, and a convenient commitment to (mostly) differing sections of the writing world.

A part of me feels shameful, wary of enabling each other. A larger part feels relieved: it’s a tough part in which to be alone.

And it did feel important, refreshing, to balance that reflexive, negative spin with that more youthful, college-inspired one. The one that recognizes, as I overheard one participant put it, that some people take until seventy to figure ot their purpose. That, with writing, as with so many things, there is no formula, no model anyone can proscribe that will lead anywhere assured.

That it isn’t now, and in fact, will never be, too late to aspire toward goals, selves, people, projects we may (or may not!) someday achieve.

 

 

 

On Social Media and Stepping Back

“I just have to tell you, you look amazing on Instagram!”

It was the start of a coffee date with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and, sitting outside a cafe with herbal iced teas, these were (approximately) her first words.

I wasn’t sure how to receive them. Thanks? But what about here, in three whole dimensions? Or, Doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that the whole point?

In a pretty pure sense, those nifty photo filters are designed to make us all look better: a shade more sexy and glam. Less purely, or simply, one function of social media is to make ourselves look great. The various digital platforms on which so many of us spend so much time have the upside of enabling us all to curate our best selves. The downside, perhaps, is that they enable everyone else to do the same.

It can be a problem.

The day before that coffee date I’d met a different friend for an afternoon beer. (Welcome to the chaos of visiting home–next time, I swear, I shall tell no one I’m here). As she and I caught up, I told her how one aspect of my experience in Taos that had helped me commit to writing was being a part of an artistic community in which we so intimately shared the relentless rollercoaster that makes up a creative life: no matter anyone’s pretty website or impressive CV, everyone there experienced a cyclical tumult of good and bad news–an editor interested, and then not. A residency offered, another declined. A job prospect come and gone. Days in which we felt strong and fearless, and others in which we felt fragile and weak.

“No one ever talks about that!” my friend said. “All we tell each other are the good parts.”

It’s often true. Increasingly, we do rely on social media networks for knowledge of other people’s lives. And those lives, as we see them, are not whole. They exclude the downswings: the feelings of loneliness and rejection, the near-misses and self-doubt. We don’t post pictures of ourselves from bad angles or sour moods. Even those moments of vulnerability we do share tend to be crafted, the rawness given a glossy sheen.

It’s understandable. One of the most confusing parts about Facebook etc. is the breadth of audience. Normally, we decide how to communicate based on who we’re communicating with. These networks complicate that–we aren’t ever sure who’s paying attention. The former colleague? The ex-boyfriend? The ex-boyfriend’s aunt? The current crush? The current crush’s ex?

There are probably some in that mix with whom we’d be willing to share our lesser selves. But with others we’re inclined to be more cautious. It’s a lowest common denominator effect: the audience toward whom we are most wary tends to determine all that we’re willing to publicly share.

“I need a social media diet,” I announced to a pair of writer pals the other day in Wiliamsburg, one new friend and one old. We had been talking about inane google searches, how people turn to the web for the oddest insights, and I had self-servingly announced that I was going to turn to two smart women instead.

“You can do it,” they assured. “It’s just about self-control!”

“I know,” I said. “I don’t have that.”

I’m trying to get some. I can’t abandon the stuff completely–if I did, there is a very good chance you wouldn’t be here. But I can take a few steps back. Moderate. Try and prevent the kind of Instagram Black Holes like the one into which I fell the other night, after a middling evening out found me home, scanning pictures of Other People’s More Fun Lives.

The next day, on a neighborhood run, I told my brother R what I’d done–how crappy I’d let stupid filtered photos make me feel.

“That’s stupid,” he said.

“I know,” I replied. “I agree.”

Notes, Continued, On Not Living In New York

It often happens, and is thus often remarked, that the wisdom people give you doesn’t resonate until long after it’s given.

So it happened that yesterday, I walked the streets in Park Slope, felt fond feelings toward the brownstone and tree-lined streets (quiet, as they blessedly, rarely were), and remembered something a colleague once said to me about five years ago, as she and I strolled the University of New Mexico campus.

“New York,” she said, “is a great place to visit.”

I (and likely, you) know that my attitudes toward this city have swung and swung like a cheap amusement park ride for the duration of the thirteen (golly!) years since I left for college: consistently, quickly, and not rarely inducing nausea.

So that when she said that to me, my gut reaction was something along the lines of: sure, that’s fine for you, you being a person who did not grow up in New York and therefore can feel adequate without living there. Or, to put it another way, that’s fine for you, you being an inferior person.

Flash forward: today, and all of the last days that I have spent in this city (outside those moments when I have been cursing crowds or humidity and clutching my niece like the world depended on it) I have thought to myself—that woman was right.

Friends, feel free to feel proud. Because I am pretty sure this trip marks the very first time that I have come to New York with zero desire to move back, and zero guilt about that feeling.

Okay. Obviously that’s not totally true. If it were totally true, than I wouldn’t feel compelled to qualify. Which, of course, I do.

So: I still would like to think that there will come a time in the relatively near future when New York will feel, both financially and emotionally, like a plausible and appealing option.

But, among the levels of clarity that have recently, thankfully emerged, one is this: New York is not the place for me right now.

This clarity, honestly, has emerged over time. Driving it along have been a couple of other pearls from writerly types: the editor who, over lunch in the West Village, hurriedly advised that she tells all young writers to get out of the city—until, she said, they become Jonathan Franzen or Zadie Smith. (Moments, I’m sure.) Too much going on, she said, and too easy for the competition to psych you out. And the grad school professor who, over coffee in Albuquerque, nodded his head and cautiously observed that I might have a choice: between being a writer and living in New York.

At the time I let his words sink in about as much as a suntan. I was having fun in New York. Also, I didn’t know where else to go.

*

“I don’t know how people do it.”

I was chatting with an acquaintance this past weekend at a Greenpoint wedding (one that managed to be equal parts rustic, Jewish and awesome): a woman who grew up in Chicago, and as of recently, resides, happily, in Brooklyn.

We were commiserating about the hardship of living in the place you’re from: how you can’t seem to escape the weight of those adolescent insecurities, those unshakeable family roles. She shared how she always makes a point of keeping a bit of cash on her at all times, but when she goes home, it somehow disappears.

I told her how despite being the most reliably punctual person I know, I managed to be late the last time I was dispatched to pick up my niece from school (imagine me + 5th Avenue in Park Slope + running like an escaped wildcat): for both of us, just as we were trying to prove to our relatives that we are not the flakey, incapable youngest children we know they think we are, we managed to mess up.

“Maybe someday we’ll be able to handle it,” I said to her as we took a pause from the dance party and leaned against a wood pillar.

“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

It doesn’t matter how our families see us, or the people we went to high school with, or anyone else we associate with these sites of our upbringing. What matters is how yoked we are to the way we think they do—and how deeply it penetrates the way we see ourselves.

It’s a handicap that may, someday, be worth working against. But for now, I am content to accept it. And to enjoy coming to New York, as that grad school colleague suggested, as a great place to visit.

Which, in case you didn’t know, is awesome! (Probably it would be more awesome if I didn’t have to cram in time with twelve close relatives and about as many close friends…) But anyway. Still! There are reasons  reasons I probably don’t need to tell you (Just in case: The energy! The art! The brilliant, ambitious, attractive people!), why people put up with the crowds and the lines and the walkups and the astronomical rents.

Things, I must tell you, that I find much easier to enjoy these days in small doses that I have no (present) intention of making big.

More on Mobility, Minivans and Minneapolis Summer

“Now this sounds more like the Elizabeth Tannen I know and love!”

I was sitting across from a guy friend at a bar on Lake Street. It was raining outside and we were catching up and he was leaning his elbows on the table as he smirked.

He and I met my first year of grad school. You know, when I was twenty-five and single and behaving with men, essentially, the same way I do now–except with smaller stores of confidence and self-awareness and fewer boxes of books.

He observed as much: “You seem so much more secure now,” he said.

This has been a widespread reaction lately, as I’ve made the rounds and, one by one, over coffee or pilsner or lunch, friends have evaluated my psychic state, post break-up.

And as I have observed them, observing me, one thing that’s struck is the degree to which everyone, it would seem, feels more comfortable with me single.

“You’re just meant to be on your own,” one said, flashing a naughty grin as she rocked back and forth in her chair and made me mint tea.

“I’m just glad to know you, so that I can live through your adventures!” said another, over burgers in Park Slope.

My immediate reaction to this is defensive. So, I rationalize:

Maybe it’s that people who are coupled like to have some singles around, through whom (from the safe vantage of their regular cuddling and sex) they can get a vicarious kick.

Maybe, as a few have bluntly put it, it’s that folks think I write better (and probably more) when I’m alone. Related: the fact that my identity—both private and public—feels more tied to being solo, and, while it may not be the noblest trait (how many human ones are?), we all tend to feel more comfortable when our loved ones—usually for better but sometimes for worse—stay as they are.

To give people, or at least my friends, a bit more credit: they have also been unfailingly supportive because they know I made a good decision. Not to say that they didn’t love who I was with (to a person, rather, they did) but because they can see I made a tough choice I knew was right—something that, generally, ultimately, boosts all of our self-worth.

 *

I have to tell you I laughed a little when I read that.

The that my friend R was referring to in her email was my gripe about the fact that I was leaving Minneapolis for three weeks in New York (greetings from Brooklyn!), and that, already, after perhaps the Most Melodramatic Monthlong Exit in the history of Taos, I had grown so attached to my new(ish) home that I didn’t want to leave there, either.

One thing you have to understand about this, on background, is that summer in Minneapolis is pretty special. What with everyone having been stuck indoors for nine months, when the warm weather strikes—especially in that (granted, brief) moment before the heat and humidity and musquitoes amp up—the place turns into a giant party. Everyone wants to hang out, barbecue, make out, bike, etc.

This, needless to say, would be enough of a reason for me to resist leaving. Another is that I’ve spent the last few weeks setting myself up for the summer and the season: you know, running and yoga routines, minivan, bike. To say nothing of the coziest roommate sitch west of Rhode Island–about which I’ve probably gloated enough. And, for all of the ways in which I crave change, I sometimes, just for a second, would like a moment to feel settled.

But then, who am I kidding?

“Do you think I actually love to move around?”

A laughed over the phone. “Are you joking?” She said. “Of course you do.”

And, yet again (sorry, I feel most recent posts have led to this same spot) I must come to terms with the fact that (for one, my friends know me better than I know myself, and) the person I would like to be is not, always, exactly, who I am.

I would like to be the person who is monogamous: whose normal mode is coupled. I would like to be the person who is happy to stay in one place for more than a few months at a time without growing restless. I would like to be the person who buys a minivan because she anticipates having a litter of children to cart around town in it—not because it is a cheap car owned by a good friend that runs and will fit a lot of stuff for the next, (probably) inevitable move.

But this is not the case. For now at least, being single sounds pretty fun. As (usually) does being a bit of a nomad. And frankly, nothing could sound less appealing than hours spent chauffering a batch of kids. (Though this likely has more to do with the driving than the children; I may need to move to New York when I procreate, or else teach my kids to fly.)

This lifestyle (you know, the single, unstable one) can be exhausting. When A and I complain to each other about it, as we are wont, on occasion, to do, she is always quick with the rejoinder:

“Just wait,” she says. “In ten years we’ll be calling each other with children screaming and boring husbands in the background. And we will long for this time.”

 

Notes on Normal, and Special Times

“Oh yeah, all us normal people, we’re so boring.”

My Wurlitzer friend T’s boyfriend was in the next room of their East Village apartment, making dinner as she and I wound down our latest Skype session — and mocking us. More directly, mocking T’s observation of how hard it’s been re-entering normal (in her case, New York), post-residency life.

We laughed, and then resumed ignoring him.

“I know,” I said. “It was a really special time.”

For all of us in in the small sisterhood we formed in Taos, the post-residency adjustment has been hard. Hard not to have one another as neighbors. Hard not to live within the constant bosom of each other’s wisdom and laughter and intellect. Hard not to occupy the idyllic wonderland of northern New Mexico in which the demands on our time were nil–free from significant others and work obligations and nuanced ven diagrams of social circles. Hard to be back in the “normal” world in which we must prioritize more than simply each other and our art.

We knew how precious our time was. We talked about it. We talked, too, about the fact that things would have felt far different, and, certainly, far less special, were our time together infinite rather than finite.

It’s what sets “normal” apart from not: routines, (potentially) lifelong relationships, careers, permanent homes–what we have that is (or at least feels) stable.

Things, you may have observed, that I presently, notably (and with an oddly increasing inner calm) lack.

A solid freelance journalism gig and a commitment to my own writing (one rather perilously, suddenly spread between two books and a batch of prose poems) aside, in the process of leaving one precious, temporary situation I managed (if rather painfully) to insert myself into another.

As I write this I’m sitting on a living room couch belonging to two of my favorite people in the universe–probably the only couple alive in which I have equally close, long-standing friendships with both halves. In the next room H is reading on the porch. P is waking up slowly upstairs. This morning H and I made coffee and reported about our Friday nights out (me: awesome reading; her: pizza with pals). Each night this week one or some combination of us has made a dinner we’ve shared (fried rice, ravioli, veggie tacos, wings). One evening since my arrival P’s parents called up from St. Louis; when he answered, he told them that “the whole family was gathered together on the couch.”

Have I mentioned that this (too) is a special time?

“I love our lives,” H gushed the other day (as she, adorably, does) as we made ourselves a pair of pre-dinner Negronis.

“I know,” I said. “Maybe I should never leave!”

I was joking, of course. Of course, I know, that–without undermining the force of our deep (thirteen-year-old!) love–what makes this shared summer feel like a treasure is the fact that it will end. If I had no plan to vacate the guest room, if my co-habitation were infinite rather than temporary, I doubt things would be as cozy.

But since they are, since I am planning (most days) to leave this town come fall (and since it is summer in Minneapolis and warm enough to walk around lakes and toward libraries and barbecue every weekend night), it feels, well, pretty special.

I miss my Taos girls, of course. And breakfast burritos (some days, not kidding, so much it hurts). And the little light-filled casita with the big backyard that gave me so much.

And I have moments: driving the minivan in small bursts of traffic or staring at a page of gmail that stubbornly refuses to deliver the messages I wish it would (the life of a writer…) or reflecting on all the turmoil that’s gone on lately in which some vague but dismal emotion (loneliness? fear? hurt?) threatens to pang.

But for the most part, I feel more and more cognizant of how fortunate I am, in the absence of stability and certainty about what’s next, to take advantage of these special, temporary experiences–the kind that are so much easier to enjoy because we know they will pass.

The bigger challenge for us all is to appreciate the people and places and experiences that aren’t so overtly special, or finite–the stuff of “normal” life, the stuff that, as T’s love jokingly put it, can be mistaken for boring just because it is, or feels, lasting.

And what with all the choices I’ve got to make and self-reflection I know is in store, I can at least feel thankful that’s one challenge I don’t have to worry about–yet.

 

 

On Qualifying, Accepting, Embracing and More Thoughts on Home

“Oh no. You can’t get attached to another place! You already have three!”

I looked up at (my new roommate/old college friend) H, who had turned to face me from the sink. Then back down at the sweet potatoes I was peeling for dinner.

“Actually, four,” I mumbled.

She tilted her chin up as she made a mental count. “Oh right. Four! Lizzie!”

“It’s just an idea,” I said.

(That’s a phrase, by the way, with which I’ve taken to qualifying most sentences these days that relate, in any way, to my future–a tic that, at times, makes me feel like a commitment-phobic teenage boy: “Oh, I’m just thinking about it.” “I need time to decide.” “It’s not for sure.” You know: “Nothing serious.”)

I had triggered H’s (horrified) reaction when I mentioned that, on the list of activities I am considering for Fall 2014, is to apply for some writing fellowships I’ve never attempted before — the kind you often have to attempt a lot of times. Also, the kind that usually require you to relocate.

“You can’t make a whole new set of friends in a whole new place,” she moaned, moving to the counter to chop broccoli.

I smiled. A few years, a few months ago, probably, I would have agreed. In fact, amidst all the half-joking brainstorm sessions I’ve recently held with friends, tossing around ideas, making grids of potential homes, there is one line to which I have stuck: I do not want to go someplace totally new.

“It’s so much work starting over in a new city,” I keep saying. “The idea of it is exhausting.”

Part of me stands by that feeling. But another part has begun to surface: a part that has taken to to punctuating that whine with an(other) qualification: “But I actually really enjoy meeting new people…”, or “Well, maybe I will just text my one friend to see if she’s still living in New Orleans…” (I did. She does.)

It is one thing, of course, to move to a totally new place with one (or no) friends — and another to move to a totally new place with one (or no) friends when you have the support, invitation, etc. of a large institution. The latter sounds much more appealing.

But still: as I stood with H in the kitchen I recognized a tangible shift. (What can I say, I’m 30 — an age that makes one look for them.) I have spent the last ten years reckoning with those twin pulls: to settle, and to explore. But mostly, I have been resisting the exploration part: rationalizing rather than embracing it.

I finally did give up the internal insistence that, wherever I might be willing to spend a few months or years, I would, inevitably, return to New York. But I never stopped telling myself that I would (soon, I hoped) settle somewhere. That all of my frittering around was simply a short-term way station on the road to an eventual, imminent, place for permanent roots.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Among so many other things, my months in Taos served to remind me of the enormous inspiration that comes from being in a new and different space. It helps, of course, when the particular place is epically inspirational in and of itself. But new environments always push us to different edges and levels of attention, in a way that is critical for any artist.

If I wanted to work a full time job and make enough money to explore the world a few weeks a year, I’d do that. But I don’t. Instead, I want to work just enough to support my writing. (I realize how privileged I am that this is a choice available to me.) Getting to travel as much as I’d like is a sacrifice I’ve had to make. The flipside is that being a writer means permission to live, essentially, anywhere.

Maybe at some point the thought of moving to Portland or Austin or London for no particular reason will appeal. For now, it doesn’t, really. But I am beginning, at least, to accept that my lifestyle may be more nomadic than I expected for longer than I thought it would.

I guess this is all another way of telling you (again) that I am still (slowly) moving toward that elusive acceptance of the gap between how I thought my life would look and how it does.

But I guess, too, what I want to tell you is that it’s beginning to feel less like acceptance, and more like enthusiasm: like the Big Unknowns that characterize my future are less things to excuse, and more to embrace.