On Christmas, Ecstatic Dance and Letting Go

I met one of my closest friends in Minneapolis during a barbecue at the start of summer.

I was holding court: surrounded by a circle of open-mouthed, maxi-dressed women as I described the short-lived love affair that had lurched me into months of longing and compulsive poetry.

When K approached I assumed she was part of this group of women, all of whom had grown up together. I (wrongly) made that assumption because of the assurance in her tone as she ambled over, flicked her hand in a show of nonchalance, and said, perfectly, “Life is long!”

The particular, challenging contours of K’s life that I’ve since learned have only deepened my appreciation of that wisdom. And it’s one I keep returning to. Particularly, as it happened, during my holiday visit home.

As a culture, we tend to emphasize the opposite advice: life is short! Act now! Make sure you have no regrets!

And of course, there’s wisdom there too. We shouldn’t be prone to inertia, we shouldn’t procrastinate decisions and changes too long once we’ve recognized them.

But the more I experience, the more I recognize how little use there is for regret–and how little anyone can (or should) predict.

“A year ago I was getting rejected from Sweaty Betty!”

A and I were drinking elaborately infused vodka martinis at a subterranean East Village bar on Christmas night. (After a day spent ingesting an excess of sugar, sesame noodles and sporadic bursts of Family Tension, I impulse-gifted myself a late night speedwalk down Second Avenue and, bless her compliance, a duo of drinks with a dearest friend.)

Red-lipsticked Russian waitresses slid around the room. The bartender played dissonant pop songs from the early 2000s. And A and I reflected on how much our lives had transformed in the last year: one in which she’s moved, professionally, from a place of searching and insistent frustration to one of stability and promise.

“Where was I last December?” I mused, for a moment unsure. “Oh. Right. Practically married!” I sipped my drink. Shook my head. “Wow, things have changed.”

A nodded. “I mean, it’s crazy to think that we have any idea what we’ll be doing in five years.”

A few nights later I visited a Brooklyn bar with my brother, J. (I swear, I did more in New York this vacation than just drink.) It’s the sister bar to the one where J works, so we’d barely made it through the entrance before he started giving out handshakes and hugs.

Among the people he knew were a married couple with grown kids, a man and woman with that distinctly New York version of openness that pings me with warmth. We sat with them by the bar as they spoke lovingly of their family and 19th century Gowanus home, told us how they’d waited until five in the morning on Christmas to open gifts so that they could be together, just them and their four kids.

It didn’t emerge until later in the conversation that both of them are in fact divorced, that their four kids come from both their first marriages, that they’d met as colleagues and that she had attended his first wedding as a guest.

At this, J and I traded looks of awe.

“I’m practically crying,” he said, in partial jest. (And, predictably, in the same tone: Don’t you think you should write about their family instead of ours?!)

I thought: Life is long.

The following morning I rushed out of bed to subway into the West Village for a 5 Rhythms dance class: a space where the vibes of nightclub and zen center converge. I’d been wanting to go for years, but this was my first time, and I spent the full two hours feeling torn between the impulse to close my eyes and explore the sensual particulars of my soul (as the instructor/DJ implored), and opening them to absorb the erratic movements around me: fifty-plus bodies ranging infinite human types (fat, thin, young, old, black, Asian, white…even one guy with a yarmulke) in varying modes of motion: flow to staccato to chaos and (other things and) back.

Everyone poured sweat. Boundaries melted. Some bodies moved through and around each other, some faces marked recognition, and I could see that for many, this class represents a regular community–a kind of church.

I felt reminded, again, of how little we can trust our assumptions about anyone.

With one or two exceptions, no one in that room was someone that I would pass on the street and expect to find at the Joffery Ballet on a sunday morning doing ecstatic dance. I had to imagine some of them had been doing it for years, and some began more recently. The practice is new enough that few present could have been raised with it. Somehow, somewhere along their way, (likely, as I did, through a friend), they’d happened upon it; likely, the experience had dramatically shifted their lives. In just those two hours, it had, not insignificantly, affected mine.

What am I getting at?

It’s the same point where I keep winding up. It’s the reminder of how little we know. It’s the certainty that nothing is certain. That the marriage we think is solid may break in a day. The friendship that seems improbable may change everything. The dance class we give into trying one Sunday may transform our worldview. I’m saying I may stay in Minneapolis for one year or fifty. That I might never get married, or find three husbands yet.

Hermann Hesse: Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. 

Letting go: a daily struggle. But at least, we hope, one that starts to come with greater ease.

Letting go, that is, of any illusions that we know what’s coming; of any assurance that we can say what the next day or week or month or year will bring.

I know: there’s a way in which that’s terrifying.

But there’s another in which it can seem the most comforting thing in the world.

Happy 2015 :-)

Courtship, Crushes, and Being A Basketcase

“You’re a basketcase.”

My (married, male) friend shook his head. We were sitting across from each other at the coffee shop, and I was amped: a combination of third wave caffeine and the distant sighting of romantic connection.

A few days earlier this friend and I had gone to lunch, and I’d been irritable: feeling sullen that I didn’t have any love interests of which to speak.

“Last week you were freaking out that you didn’t have anyone,” he implored, his palms flat on the crumb-specked table. “And now you’re freaking out that you have everyone!”

Substitute “one person” for “everyone” and you have something like half of a truth: last week I had no one, this week I had the (uncertain, premature) idea of a person.

It had been a minute.

A minute, by which I mean a couple of months, since I’d had anything like a sincere crush object. Half that time, of course, I was away; the other half I was anticipating that I would be away. Still, it felt sad.

Here’s the thing: my single girlfriends and I are less likely to complain about not having a boyfriend than we are about not having a crush.

Sure, we worry, as one does, about how and when we’ll meet someone we want to wake up with forever. But independence has perks. Being boyfriend-less is just fine. Crush-less, though: un-fun. We depend on crushes to brighten the corners of our daily, weekly, nightly routines.

“When you like someone, it just makes everything feel a little bit more exciting!” is how one friend put it.

Another supposed that those of us with especially busy minds need crushes to help populate the peripatetic trenches of our relentless internal chatter.

It tends to sound pathetic: the notion of feeling dependent on the idea of a man as unsavory as that of depending on an actual one. But this isn’t about dependency; it’s about desire. And, as I’ve recently reminded you, I’m done feeling any kind of bad about wanting intimacy.

But back to being a basketcase: because, while it does feel nice to have a specific face with which to lift up those interstitial moments in stalled traffic or overcast afternoon walks, it also feels, you know: terrifying.

(I’m realizing that my memory may process dating the way women are supposed to process childbirth: blocking out the traumatic parts so that, in fits and starts at least, I manage to press on with the endeavor–until the trauma re-surfaces, by which point I’m already stuck. Anyone?)

*

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve learned to manage expectations around people.

In certain relationships (mothers come to mind), it will always be a struggle: the stakes and pressure so high that it’s hard, if not impossible, to ever accept the gap between what you desire from someone and what you know they can give.

But mostly, I feel I’ve gotten better at navigating the different ways friendships can function and people relate. I know the friends who pick up on the first call and those who prefer to keep up over email; those who are game for impromptu walks but can’t commit more than hours ahead, and others who like to plan dinner weeks in advance. I have friendships with people I’ll hardly hear from until we see each other, when it’s just perfect, and others where a few days without an online catch-up feels big; some friends who I know want to hear all the gushy details of every boy encounter, and others who would prefer to talk Terry Gross.

We are, all, essentially, piles of needs: physical, cerebral, emotional–they gather and disperse in the fluid way we all shift and change. And at the same time that we learn how to depend on ourselves, we learn how to depend on others.

“It’s part of maturing, I think,” one friend recently commented. We were having coffee in my Minneapolis dining room, the stark morning sun no indication of frigid temperatures outside. “You learn to tell people in your life what you need from them.”

I agreed. And, thought later, here is the problem with dating: you can’t.

I mean, sure: you could walk into a first or second date and announce that you are an anxious person who prefers the assurance of hearing from someone every few hours, lest you panic they’ve lost interest/fled. Nothing, technically, is stopping you from rolling on into the bar and declaring your particular expectations around sex or communication or emotional support.

But, probably: you don’t.

At the early stages of courtship, no one’s committed to anything. There’s no foundation upon which to set each person’s gathered residue of projected pasts. It’s all discovery: a cryptic, high-stakes dance set in a charged, hormone-rich sphere.

And this, friends, is what entitles me (and you!) to be a basketcase.

Just identifying what we need takes work and no small amount of self-awareness; expressing those needs clearly to others is a challenge even with those most close.

When it comes to the Beginnings of Things, unless you are my stunning Brooklyn hairdresser which means you are named Sunshine and comfortable demanding your suitors call you (on the phone!) at least once a day, chances are you’re not going to tell it straight.

Chances are, you’re going to flail through those early stages like a dolphin pup blindfolded on a Pacific beach: feeling your way with the most minimal clues pushing you along, uncertain, awkward, and probably a little bit lost.

Unlike dolphin pups, who may or may not match the human capacity for relationship angst: you will feel like a basketcase.

Because while it is swell to have someone to think about, it can be terrible not being able to share what that might mean.

 

On Comfort and Contradictions, Beer Halls and Eve Ensler, Gardens and Art

To the list of Things For Which I’m Grateful, add: not being the person responsible for operating on my 104-year-old grandmother’s femur.

Alas (thankfully), such a person exists. And alas (miraculously), Grandma Edith, ever her charming, social (if oft difficult) self, is currently recuperating from a bedside fall that broke her (104-year-old!) hip in a rehabiltation facility across from the top of Central Park.

So it was that, during a two-day trip home, my mother and I followed a visit to her (and her harem of heroic nurses, all nicknamed mamelah) with a walk through the Park’s Conservancy Garden. Established by some set of Vanderbilts, it’s one of those idyllic urban oases you can’t quite believe: bridal parties take pictures, tourists herd families, hardened Manhattanites read the Arts section and library books.

And, people sit and have Real Talk. There were a pair of them: on a bench, a man and a woman, vaguely young, maybe British, with a relationship I couldn’t discern. There were tears, clipped voices. We passed them twice: strolling through the manicured hedges and circular stands of flowers I can’t name. Both times, I had to strain not to slow down, turn back, gawk–wonder: what are they fighting about? Who are they? What’s their story? 

The next evening, at the East Village after-party for the wedding I’d come home to attend, I shared the anecdote with a pair of fellow guests.

What was that? I asked them. Why was I so desperate to know what was going on with two people I’d never seen before and would almost certainly never see again? What is it that makes us so compelled by strangers drama?

It’s about connection, one said. The other agreed. We want to know we’ve felt the same thing. 

Do we? I asked. Or do we want to know that we haven’t? Don’t we want to know other people’s pain in order to feel better about our own?

Or: is it both at once?

On the flight home I began reading Eve Ensler’s memoir of illness, recommended recently by a dear friend. In one chapter, she describes the “cancer town” of Rochester, Minnesota–where, in her experience, wig shops dot corners and waitresses double as therapists.

“I cannot say,” she writes, “if cancer town was a comfort a horror.”

I’ve been to exactly three places in Rochester: a dive bar where an ex played a rock show; a hotel restaurant; a parts factory owned by a friend’s dad. But the phrase struck a different kind of chord. It struck at that familiar tension and fluidity between two emotions that I felt surface in the park. And in other moments, too.

Just from the weekend, this one: watching the handsome, elderly, wheelchair-bound black man in the elevator of the Mt. Sinai Rehab facility who, likely due to stroke, couldn’t speak the word seven and had to strain to press that white round button himself. I can see the young man in his face, I thought. He could be anyone; he could be me. The horror.

And this: sitting, hours later, at a Bloomingdale’s makeup counter while a stunning young woman (having transformed a simple lipstick purchase into a full-on makeover once learning that I was en route to a wedding) narrated her latest episode of male disappointment. I waited for him for three hours, she told me. What does he think I am, a goddamn drive-thru? The comfort!

In each of these interactions, I felt a simultaneous sense of relief and alarm in the recognition of likeness.

As many do, I often say and think that illuminating our connectedness is art’s most important purpose: that we need art to remind us, again and again, how we all share the same constellation of feeling. That our hurts and troubles aren’t unique. That we aren’t alone.

We can’t be reminded enough.

All of Frank O’Hara’s poems or Alice Munro’s stories or Mark Rothko’s paintings won’t ever fully satisfy that urge—to know our sameness. It is the ultimate comfort.

And, yet, as Ensler writes, it is also a horror: to see ourselves in the dark places. In the faces of the elderly or ill, in the struggles in other people’s relationships; to recognize our mortality, our smallness, our sameness, our relative insignificance.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to reconcile those two poles. But that one sentence from Ensler’s book was a reminder that I can’t. That our responses: to places, to each other, to the English gardens and strangers’ arguments around us, is often fluid and elusive and layered.

Our experience, I often need to remind myself (and, generous reader, sometimes you), is packed with contradiction; the sense we make of it must be as well.

On Closeness, Birthday Extravaganzas, and Infinite Instafriends

“So, how close are you with your family?”

My friend R and I were scrubbing various surfaces of her bathroom in preparation for that day’s move. (Hers.) Moments earlier, we’d become hysterical imagining a reality TV version of the scene, in which two Jewish American (relative) Princesses attempt to clean house. Some sqealed “oy!”s ensued.

But back to her question, which resonated on a couple of levels.

For one: as some may recall, Close happens to be the title of my (almost finished!) family memoir–suggesting that the inquiry is one I require approximately 50 thousand words and three-ish years to answer.

For another, R and I feel quite close: the kind of friends who help each other clean toilets and talk through major life choices–despite, as her question illustrated, having known each other only briefly and having, still, pretty major gaps in knowledge of each other’s families and pasts. (When did she start having sex? No clue. How many siblings? Pretty unsure.)

It was, in fact, R who–days earlier, during the last leg of the 3-day extravaganza that my grandmother termed my Polish Wedding of a birthday celebration–coined the term instafriend.

“I love it,” she said, recalling how she had so quickly clicked with a couple other of my new-ish pals at Saturday’s barbecue. (Leg number one.) “I haven’t felt so at home in years!”

Among these new-ish pals include one (met through friends) who drove me to the airport at 5 in the morning after hanging out only a handful of times, and wound up baking one of my birthday cakes and helping me fold about 200 dumplings for the party. Another (met at a barbecue) who insisted on contributing a tablescape, and who had dispatched her father to drive me from New Haven to Middletown, Connecticut the second time we met. One (met at the gym) who brought with her small succulents, a bottle of Knob Creek and a visiting sister, who the next day invited me to join her family’s barbecue.

As I told H en rainy route to pick up burritos last night, I’ve been pondering how to blog about this spate of fast-formed friendships without sounding like an ass hole/full-on bragging. (Look at me, I have so many friends!)

I got nothing. You’ll just have to forgive me: as I am prone to reminding you, I have two skills in this life. One is writing speedy sentences that tend not to suck, and the other is making friends. (Need someone to sew a button, help a 5th grader with math, or ever have any clue what direction is west? Everyone Else is more your gal.) Also, it’s still my birthday week.

So, yeah: it’s not a totally new phenomenon. But forging new friendships has not always been something I’ve felt open to. At other points, in other places, I’ve felt like a new host of friends was the last thing I needed. A couple of years ago, for instance, when I was working four jobs and struggling to figure out a post-MFA life in New York, I felt like I barely had enough time for the girlfriends I had–making space for others was not even low priority, it didn’t at all appeal.

Flash forward to the last couple of months: my appetite for new friends has been insatiable. And frankly, it’s felt uncanny: the rate at which I’ve been meeting wonderful women and clicking quickly.

Deeply, too.

“I love you!” one said, casually, as she kissed me goodbye at the coffee shop where we’ve become pals–and outside of which, at that point, we’d yet to hang out.

The comment made me smile, and reflect, yet again, on what it means to love someone.

There are, of course, so many ways that it can mean. And lately, as I sort through the latest clues about what kind of love I want and need from a romantic partner, this flood of (mostly) female friendship can’t but feel some sort of significant signal: a reminder of how essential it is to open ourselves to all kinds of love. How connections can come in so many forms, with so many rich, diverse qualities. How the endless ways to love and be loved is something we discover all the time.

Malcolm Gladwell is right: the biggest predictor of friendship is proximity. There are infinite people in the world with whom we could connect, as friends or as lovers. For the latter, most people decide to settle on one. But when it comes to the former, we don’t.

Still, quality over quantity, I’ve heard said. Better to have fewer deeper friendships than more, thinner ones.

These days, I’m not sure I agree.

I’d trade nothing for the friends I’ve known for decades, who throw around my middle initial and know not only each of my brothers’ names but their particular quirks. There are so many moments when I turn to them.

But in this rich, complicated life, I love having so many different people to turn to in all kinds of scenarios: the older women who dispense wisdom about past husbands; the younger girlfriends who remind me to go to rock shows; the Jewish gals who know what I mean when I saw mamelah; the athletic ones, always game for a bike ride or a jog; the writer pals who meet me to drink beer and submit poetry.

I’m making my set of friends sound like a girl band.

I don’t want to. What I want to say is this: that the older I get the more I appreciate how much we move through in our lives; how different phases call for different sorts of focus and moods and care; how while some might prefer to deepen a few friendships or diminish the value of those quickly made, I feel nothing but exuberantly, massively thankful for the fast, fierce friends I’ve had the fortune, lately, to make.

Because to me, right now, they are everything.

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.

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.