Postcard from An Online Dating Binge

“I think you should max it out!”

I was chatting online with N, and at first wasn’t sure whether she was referring to the poem I’d just sent her or my love life.

The poem definitely needed more (I tend to hold back), but I knew she was conferencing with undergraduates in Albuquerque, and therefore unlikely to be reading rough drafts–so guessed the latter.

I would like to take a moment here, if I may, for a public thanks to N: my trusty gchat, poetry and online dating wingwoman, who, despite being in a serious relationship, keeps up an OkCupid login so that she may help me scout prospects.

“The internet dates, you mean?”

“Yes!”

“Do it until I can do it no more??”

“Yes!”

This is a thing that I have done, sometimes do. And, currently (this is where if I knew how I’d include the anxious-face emoji my friends tease me for overuse of in texting) am doing.

(“Wait, which one are we talking about again?” That night I drove home from a concert in St. Paul with my roomie, H–a date that, obviously, beat the rest of em hands down. “There are too many for me to keep track.”)

As anyone who has ever dated online knows, discomforts, frustrations and bizarre moments accumulate quick: you assemble a carefully curated outfit, only to walk into the bar and realize your date is wearing a t-shirt he appears to have bought at a Mexican arcade; you discover that you not only know your date’s ex-girlfriend, but have been told that you look similar (you learn things: people have types!); you go to a block party and feel that you’ve stumbled into a parade of Tinder profiles; you, suddenly, have a Tinder profile.

It is trying work.

And due to the conniving algorithms of certain, profit-driven parties, the more you participate in these online antics, the more attention you tend to receive. And while much of it is easy to dismiss (the men who can’t spell, those posed beside dead deer or Barbie-esque ex-girlfriends), not all of it, thankfully, is: as one recent date observed, in a smaller city where there aren’t that many “people like us,” “people like us” have an easier time finding each other–even on the internet.

And to the man who sent me a message suggesting that I am “too cute” to need an internet profile, I graciously inform you that the last time a girlfriend and I went to a bar with vague intentions of meeting dudes, the only member of your species to approach us was an 80-year old fellow named Vern. (For the record, I danced with him, it was lovely and, I could tell, he once was a looker.)

Seriously, though: there have been long stretches when I have felt that I didn’t need to date online, that I was meeting enough people in person, or that I just wasn’t up for the work. Porch and bike season is upon is, which hopefully means such a stretch will soon resume.

And/or: it is probably a matter of minutes before, as N put it, I max out.

I’ve gotten better at “changing the narrative” around the whole enterprise. I no longer feel a crush of disappointment each time I discover that a first date has zero sex appeal/is not my husband. I try not to talk about dates with friends until there’s something substantive to ask or say. I fib that I’m not feeling well if I don’t have it in me to stick around for a second drink, and if it’s rough getting through even one, I remind myself of the old, writerly adage: it’s all material.

But it is, also, exhausting.

“Why are you so tired?”

At a St. Patrick’s dinner this week with friends, I could barely keep myself awake for a second helping of corned beef and cabbage. (Don’t worry, I pushed through.)

“I haven’t been sleeping well,” I said.

My friend R leaned over to insert her own explanation: She’s been dating a lot. 

It isn’t just dating: as one of my friends with the initial K recently pointed out, when one is busy, one tends to take on even more obligations. I’ve found myself under a heap of imminent deadlines and commitments at the same time that I’ve (inadvertently) launched this sudden burst of meeting men. If I try to sustain it, it won’t be long before you’ll find me hiding underneath that rock that Macalester students are always painting and re-painting on campus. Or, you know, being cranky and anti-social.

But limits and exhaustion and pileup of painful moments aside, here is what I want to tell you, friends: it hasn’t been that bad. I’ve met more men that I’d consider seeing again than men who I wouldn’t.

And whether or not any of em stick, it’s refreshing (and, actually, really important) to remember that there are interesting people around. That I may know more about what I want at 31 than I did at 25, but that I still feel open and unclear in a way that will likely never change. That I’m capable of giving and getting something a little bit like love, even if only for a few awkward hours.

What I Really Learned in Grad School

Next week, I’m starting on a new phase in life. I would tell you what it was called if I had any idea what to call it, but that would mean knowing what it will look like/involve/include, and I have basically no idea. So, while we await further information on the future, let’s, briefly, reflect on the past. It’s been three years. I dated some dudes, some more disappointing than others. Here goes.

1. I have a type. Sometimes I wonder if a certain group of men I’ve been involved with are all distantly related cousins. I imagine them as part of a tribe, or team, swaying back and forth in a large, shirtless huddle, arms draped around each other on a dusty field. What do they chant? Oh, I don’t know: “Your art is most important!” perhaps. Or, “Don’t even think about meeting a romantic partner on anything but your terms!” Or, “Compromise is for kids!” Is that wierd?

2. Don’t date your colleague’s offspring. Even if they’re attractive in that dirty, uneducated sort of way. And even if they give you incongruous bedroom eyes in the florescent stairwell of your academic department where they loiter for use of WIFI, being too cheap to pay for it themselves. Probably, it will not end well. And, probably, you will spend the remainder of your career with said colleague feeling certain, each time that they ask to speak to you in private, that they are about to interrogate you about why you are not their future daughter-in-law. (Probably, though, they won’t. Because, in reality, you only went out once and everyone except you has moved on. Probably.)

2a. Go ahead and date your former students. Once you aren’t in class together, your former students have just as swell a capacity to seduce and hurt you as anyone else. I’m not saying it’ll actually work out. But really, in the end, isn’t this whole thing rooted in fantasy, anyhow? Sometimes we need to sacrifice temporary feelings for sustainable stories. Indulge.

3. Don’t Get Hurt. Get Pissed.  Has someone said this before? Anyway. A few years ago, if a guy started off talking about how I was the most special thing since Santa and a month later started treating me like some estranged step-uncle, I would have taken it personally. You know, thought it was because I had too much belly fat and not enough talent. When it happened a few weeks ago, I knew it had nothing to do with me. It’s not that I don’t have flaws (shocker!), but they weren’t what made the guy bail–his own bullshit was. Instead of feeling hurt, I just got mad. Which is still unpleasant, but less profoundly soul-crushing.

4. Because, They Mean It At the Time. Related: dudes say stupid shit. They say it without thinking. “Oh, we should drive across the country together.” “Oh, I’ll come visit you in Albuquerque.” “Oh, I’ve never met anyone like you.” And when they vanish, shortly after, from all things Earthly, one is tempted to feel tricked: “You liar!” one wants to scream. Or, “How could I have been so fucking stupid to believe that shit, again?” The latter of which, may, possibly, at some point, be worth seriously considering. (Or, in my case, considering more in a professional psychiatric context.) But as for the first, not true. I know there are dudes out there who concoct elaborate lies to undo a woman’s pants. But pretty sure those I attract have other preoccupations for their creative energies. They aren’t lying when they say those pretty words. In the moment, they mean them. They just forget about these things (slash, you) much more easily than you forget hearing them. Because that, friends, is the difference between women and men.

5. Date people you yoga with at your own peril. Another cautionary tale. Ideally, when things go sour, they will defriend you on Facebook, find another girlfriend immediately to whom they will propose in two months, and–most importantly–cease going to your studio post haste. (That happened.) However, one–less ideally–runs the risk, post-unraveling, of running into the culprit unexpectedly at yoga, refusing to accept the hug he offers and calling him a jerk because that’s what he is, and then spending the rest of the class struggling with balance because one isn’t sure whether such behavior was really the best choice, energy-wise, before a yoga class, and because he is standing directly behind you and you can’t be sure through your fogged up, sweaty vision whether he’s staring at himself in the mirror or your ass. (No comment.)

6. Women are awesome. Friends, that is. For all their shortcomings, men are much less drama when it comes to sex and living situations. But without my small army of girlfriends, at this very moment I would be huddled under the awning of some Panda Express, shivering in the 70 degree temperature, begging for beef and broccoli, and yelling at random homeless people in sleeping bags about how men are much less evolved. In other words, I would have packed approximately nothing and have vented my frustrations in far less appropriate ways. Yay, girls.

That’s all I got for now, folks. See you in Brooklyn.

 

On ‘Girls’, Boys and Bodies

“I mean, you are beautiful.”

My friend N lay her hand on my shoulder as we leaned against the kitchen counter, having just talked one another into opening a fourth bottle of beer.

As I looked back at her earnestly, our friend B–also the small, MFA party’s host–hustled in looking for wine, prompting all three of us to keel over in booze-addled giggles.

“I didn’t hear what you said,” B assured, laughing as she waved her hands and backed out of the room. “But I could tell you were having a moment. It’s cool!”

“No, stay!” I said. “We were just affirming each other! And talking about how we need to spend less time worrying about our bodies, and boys!”

“Oh,” B said, shaking her head as she leaned against the doorway and turned her face serious. “That’s really hard.”

Specifically, N and I had been trying to remind one another of our worth in tipsy effort to diminish our pesky preoccupations with being thin and finding someone to sleep with. And, more than that, to stop letting those preoccupations take up our time.

The paradox has always bewildered me: the persistent capacity of smart, capable, otherwise well-adjusted women to become uncertain, irrational crumples of insecurity when it comes to matters of their bodies and their relationships.

The body stuff is what angers me most. Lately, I’ve been struck by recent interviews with Lena Dunham in which she describes not being concerned about her shape.

“Hating my body has not been my cross to bear in this life,” she told New York Magazine. “And I feel very lucky about that.”

Lucky indeed. I admire, I envy her that freedom so much–but I don’t understand it. I grew up in the same city as Lena Dunham, around (ahem) the same time, and with parents who–like hers, I imagine–encouraged me to eat what I wanted and not worry about weight. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line societal influences penetrated: gripping me with a suffocating pressure I still feel to be thin. How could anyone have avoided that?

I’ve thought and talked and written about this subject a lot. But I hadn’t thought about it before in terms of how wasteful it is, in terms of how much time so many of us spend worrying about the way we look and whether we are loved, and how much of that time we could be dedicating, instead, to ourselves.

In other words, how much more productive we might be if we were all more like Lena Dunham: I doubt it’s a coincidence that Dunham’s been so successful at such a young age, and that she doesn’t waste energy worrying about her body.

Not that she’s any more immune than the rest of us when it comes to anxiety about men. If not for that, after all, she’d be a lot less long on material. (As B, a poet, put it last night: “If I didn’t think about guys, what would I write about?” “Look who you’re talking to,” I replied.)

We’ll never not worry about guys–or girls, or whoever. It isn’t avoidable, or even desirable. But just imagine what a relief it would be if we thought about them less.

The other night I spent time with a friend who is ten years older than me, and who I tend to think of–in part for that reason, but for others, too–as substantially wiser and more secure. In most ways, she is.

But when it comes to relationships, her struggle is similar. She recently got burned by a guy who, despite his advanced age, wound up pulling the same predictable pathologies I associate with men in their twenties: jumping in too fast and then freaking out; wanting an unstable woman he can “fix” to avoid intimacy. (Seriously: can someone find me a dude with some fresh set of issues? I’m not even thirty and I’m already bored.)

My friend knew this guy wasn’t her equal. And even so, she let herself spend an entire month feeling crushed by him.

“I hardly got any writing done that whole time,” she told me over wine and lemonade. “I was too busy trying to figure him out.”

Her words resonated powerfully: there is something singularly sharp in the recognition that all the energy I expend agonizing about flaky dudes could be used writing essays.

“We’re artists!” I exclaimed to B and N, standing between them in the kitchen, placing my hands on their shoulders. “We can’t be spending our time thinking about stupid boys, and whether or not we’re thin! We have to focus on ourselves! We have to do our art!” I was trying to convince myself as much as them.

“I think it’s biological,” B said, laughing. “At least, it makes me feel better to think about it that way!”

N and I nodded. “It’s just so frustrating,” N said, tossing her thick mane of hair behind her head. “Cause the boys we date who are artists don’t think about us, ever.”

“Nope,” B concurred. “Never. If they’re doing their thing, that’s what they’re thinking about. If you’re there, great.”

To illustrate I made a show of glancing at my phone: the screen of which, I informed them, still didn’t feature a text response from a certain artist I’m seeing.

“He’s in the studio,” I explained, bitterly. They shook their heads in sympathy.

“I’m just trying to catch myself,” I announced, relaying the advice my older friend had offered. “You know, when I like, pass a woman on campus and start to compare myself, or get too hung up waiting for a text, I’m just gonna try to catch it“–I snapped my fingers–”and make myself think about something else.”

“That’s good!” they agreed, as we began to talk about how much distance there is between recognizing a pattern and being able to break it.

Eventually, our banter leavened: we started to debate about a guy in our program and whether he would be a better kisser (N) or a better fuck (B).

“But don’t you think he’d be so tender?” B pleaded sweetly.

“Ugh,” I replied. “Can’t imagine either one. I’m sure he jackrabbits like a teenager.”

At that moment a different guy walked past, innocently seeking beer, and all of us looked at him and buckled over laughing, again.

Because among all the things that make us expend energy on our bodies and our boys, one is certainly each other. And certainly, sometimes, thank god for that.

 

The Three Year Rule

So, here are some things I’ve discovered about Albuquerque in the last few months–after living here the last three years: Golden Pride breakfast burritos. Old Town. Frontier tortillas. A cool guy. El Patio carne adovada. A set of four girlfriends with uncanny chemistry.

I know. This is just what happens when you leave a place: suddenly, you discover everything awesome about it. It’s the universe’s backwards way of generating narrative, or something: making you feel conflicted, in case you didn’t already.

If I were staying in Albuquerque, I’d be dwelling instead on all of the downsides: the present moth invasion (not kidding); the ferocious spring wind; the limited number of breweries that don’t suck.

But since I’m not, I get to spend my remaining time here waxing nostalgic about how fabulous New Mexico is. How unique and beautiful and culturally rich. How the climate is so perfect and the cost of living so low. How I have such lovely friends, such a sweet guy, such a great fucking house.

All things that are surely easier to romanticize due to my impending move. But I wonder if it’s also true that I’ve just now been here long enough to finallly feel happy.

Three years is the exact same amount of time that I lived in Washington–in both cases, just short of three years, actually, by a few months. And as I did in Albuquerque, I spent a large chunk of my time there groaning about all the city’s faults: the oppressive humidity, the plaid khaki saturation, the provincialism.

And, needless to say, by the time I moved away I was smitten with the place: so green! So walkable! So much live music!

Shortly before I left DC, I talked to my mother one weekday night on the phone.

“What are you up to this weekend?” she asked.

“Well,” I said. “On Friday I’m going to a gala. It’s black tie. And on Saturday I’m having a dinner party.”

“Wow,” she replied. “Are you sure you want to move?”

For the record, I’ve been to a black tie gala all of one time. But having dinner parties is something I did do regularly in Washington: especially in my last ten months there, when I lived in an immaculate apartment on Columbia Road with the most attractive and well-appointed private roof deck that I will ever, ever have. (Also, when I had a Very Respectable Salary that allowed me to buy large cuts of meat at Whole Foods without a flinch.)

After years of scampering to leave work early on Friday afternoons so I could make it to Metro Center and catch the bus up to New York, I finally had a social life in DC–one that was fun and dynamic and, you know, earned with many long months trying to make friends and figure out my place.

Some people say that two years is what it takes to get settled somewhere; others say just one. Surely, the city and the circumstance matter: some places are easier to penetrate than others; it’s a hell of a lot quicker to meet people when you move somewhere for school versus a job.

And I’m pretty good at meeting people and making friends. It’s one of my three life skills: that, along with writing quickly and being born with perfect eyebrows. (I usually only claim the first two, but A reminded me of the last during her recent visit and I was too worn out from our three-hour, unexpectedly snowy hike to argue.)

But even so, I feel like I might require three whole years to feel genuinely settled. To feel like I really belong and have a community and know what’s up.

You know: just in time to leave.

 

Variation on a Theme: Pre-Move Romance Angst, Con’t

“I mean, I’m not going anywhere. We don’t know how long he’s going to be around.”

My friend A and I were sitting across from each other at a restaurant in the University district of Albuquerque, between us two margaritas, one giant plate of carne adovada, and a dwindling number of vegetarian nachos.

One of my dearest friends from college, A was visiting me from Seattle for five days–nominally for a Cultural Studies Conference, but mostly so she and I could afternoon-drink on sunny patios and shop for cheap turquoise. It was the first day of her trip, and–exquisitely accommodating friend that she is–A wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to sacrifice time with the guy I’ve been seeing on her behalf.

“You aren’t getting rid of me in this life,” she said, shaking her head and crunching on a cheese-soaked chip. “Him, we don’t know.”

A’s comment had nothing to do with reservations about the guy himself. She hadn’t met him yet at that point, but once she did it became clear that she would be more than happy for me to stick around the southwest, hitch up with the dude and soon begin making Very Adorable Babies Who Live Closer to Her Timezone and in a Sunny Climate She Loves to Visit.

Rather, she was being practical: mindful of the fact that I’m moving so soon, that there are various aspects of his life that tie him to New Mexico, and various aspects of mine pulling me back to New York. Longevity seems unlikely.

Which is exactly why I told her she was being ridiculous.

I swatted my hand in her direction. “Don’t be silly!” I said. “We hardly see each other! I’m not gonna ditch you to hang out with him. No way.”

A shrugged her shoulder and grinned. “Just sayin’,” she said. “Whatever you wanna do.”

What I wanted to do was hang out with both of them. Which I did. We had dinner together and a tipsy night out that ended with the three of us walking down Central, getting looked at funny because each of my hands was in one of theirs. But really, I wanted to spend as much time as I could with A: time that was already limited by both our grad student obligations. (Grading, grading, and more grading.)

What I didn’t want was to give up my precious quality time with her in order to hang with a guy who–as she said–may not be a part of my life for long.

Except that I kinda did.

Not really. I mean, no part of me wanted to ditch A–not even a little. But I do want to spend time with this guy. He’s smart and fun and interesting and wildly creative in ways I can’t begin to understand.

And I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty about that. I have one month before I leave Albuquerque, and a whole bunch of good friends I’ll be leaving behind, too. Also, as you may know, I spent the better part of this year so focused on writing that I saw no one–besides my dog and fellow yogis–basically ever.

So: isn’t the right thing to do to spend these last with friends?

Maybe. But as far as love goes, we tend not to do things because they’re rational. We do things because they feel good. (And, if you’re me, because they’re distinctly irrational. But we’re not talking about that right now.)

Truthfully, it’s not as though I’m even seeing that much of this guy. But still: as someone to whom friends are as important as anything–not to mention someone who makes it a hobby to manufacture issues in my love life–I feel a little bit funny about giving any time at all to a person I’ve only recently gotten to know.

But, you know, not funny enough to stop.

 

Here We Go Again…

With a little over a month left til I pack up my things and move across the country, a few things are bound to happen.

One: I will freak out about my general life goals and plans/lack thereof.

Two: I will panic about the size of my book and sweater collections.

Three (you guessed it): I will meet a guy I actually like.

Done. Done. And, done.

In many, perhaps most parts of my life–dry-cleaning, hair maintenance, grading my students’ papers in a timely fashion–I am horribly inconsistent.

But when it comes to this, you can count on me like a Carmelo clutch shot: each time I move, I meet someone who lives distinctly not in the place I’m moving to.

And not just someone. Usually, it’s someone pretty special: a not-terribly-flaky, non-alcoholic, decently-mannered-and-yet-somehow-also-physically-attractive guy who seems to have mutual-like feelings.

Every. Single. Time.

Which, technically, means twice–before now.

The first, of course, was M: a graphic design student who I met on a bus from DC to NY six weeks before I left for Brooklyn. We spent the next month involved casually and the next three years intensely–in a mostly-platonic long distance friendship during which I nursed epic, misguided daydreams about him being my husband. (You may recall reading about them.)

Then, in New York–months before moving to New Mexico–I met Z: a handsome labor lawyer who responded to my Missed Connections post on Craiglist after we eyed each other on a Brooklyn-bound F. I worried that he was too nice before falling as hard as I ever have for anyone, proposing that we try long distance, and almost deciding to go to school in North Carolina so that we could be closer. (A few months later, I–publicly–concluded the chemistry was never that great.)

And now, here I am, having just started seeing someone really damn cool. (And with whom things are very, very new, and about whom, under normal circumstances–non-I’m moving in six weeks circumstances–I would never write so soon.)

But, as it happens, I am moving. And I’m exhausted. And vaguely contemplating how the hell to get all my shit from one side of America to the other while expending my actual energy putting off that pesky grading and all the other life maintenance shit I’ve spent the past dissertation-year neglecting.

All to say: I’m too tired to censor myself.

“Probably, it’s a terrible idea,” I said to my friend J the other night over plates of Thai food.

She nodded. “It might be.”

Moments earlier she had been describing her own imminent departure–one she isn’t sure is permanent–and while she talked I’d fantasized about being miserably unhappy in Brooklyn.

“I mean, it’s just gonna make it harder for me to leave,” I said. “Ugh. I shouldn’t get attached.”

“Maybe not,” she replied. “But…I dunno. It might be kinda nice…and fun…” She tilted her head from right to left.

“Yeah…” I said, spooning some more curry onto my plate.

Needless to say, when I got back in my car and saw a text from Guy In Question, I responded immediately: without a second’s hesitation. Who am I kidding? There is no part of me capable of resisting a quick and exciting chemistry. Not a single, mother-effing part.

And, after all, I’m not alone in my habit: as another friend put it in a recent email, meeting someone before you move is “in the moving rule book.”

“You have to meet the perfect guy before you go,” she wrote. “And then you have to have a long distance romance with him where he flies in for weekends and vice versa, he ends up moving here, and then you break up because, you’re both like, meh… Just kidding. But not really.”

It’s a cute (and often, true) thought. But of course, I don’t have to do any of those things. At this moment, I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to think about my books or my career or the fact I might be foolishly falling for someone I (maybe, possibly) shouldn’t. Again.

At least, not yet. What can I say? It’s what I–perhaps, what we–do.

 

In Between Times

Yesterday, about twenty minutes after dropping off my dissertation manuscript at Kinkos, I sat at a coffee shop and talked to one of my best friends on the phone.

“Congratulations!” she said. “You must feel so great!”

“Are you kidding?” I snapped back. “I feel like a wreck!”

“What are you talking about?” She asked. “Aren’t you so relieved?”

No!” I said, going on to explain how I had spent the whole night stewing awake in bed, fantasizing about the eight hundred typos I convinced myself I’d missed on the first two pages. Probably, I told her, I’d misspelled my adviser’s name. Probably, I’d be instantly humiliated and destroy my credibility with him and everyone else in the literary world. (Nevermind that I could have looked at the document to assure myself otherwise–too frightenened. And nevermind that there are a total of four members of the literary world who give a shit about my dissertation.)

“Not to mention,” I went on, “I feel so behind in my entire life. I have to plan my creative writing class. I have to do my taxes. My car is falling apart. And in two months I won’t have a job.”

“Can you please,” she begged, “just take half a day to celebrate? You’ve done so much work.”

“Ugh,” I said. “I’ll try.”

I did. I forced myself to get a pedicure. To meet a friend for excessive helpings of frozen yogurt. To pick up a six pack of beers and drink half at a friend’s barbecue last night.

But let me tell you: it wasn’t easy.

Here’s the thing: that manuscript, the nearly 300 pages I got printed and copied and all-fancy-coil-bound yesterday, has consumed me–my mind, my energy, my emotions, everything–for the past year. Everything I’ve done–I mean, everything, even my trips to the bathroom–have felt charged with a terribly coherent sense of purpose.

And at times it’s been daunting: managing this much material is a new and persistently challenging task. (Does this paragraph on p. 158 echo a sentence on p. 12? Or does it develop that thought, bring it somewhere new? Did I forget a physical description of this character, or that one? What happened to that sentence I wrote three drafts ago and impulsively threw out?)

But, mostly, it’s been a huge relief, a comfort, crutch, even, that, no matter what I was doing at any given moment–I always knew what I should be doing.

Now, suddenly, I don’t. As I moaned to my friend, I have no shortage of things to catch up on. Fairly urgent things, among them a wayward rearview mirror and 20 beleaguered undergraduates who haven’t seen a calendar since January.

But it isn’t, actually, those stresses themselves that are nagging at me right now. What’s nagging at me is that I don’t know what I’m going to do on Tuesday.

I mean, a week ago there would have been no question: I would spend Tuesday at some combination of coffee shop, library and home–writing. I would have taken a break for yoga, another for a walk, made some quick meals. But there was no real decision to make: I had to devote most of my day to writing.

This Tuesday, what am I gonna do? I could grade papers. I could deal with my car. I could buy or make one of the many thank you gifts I owe. I’ll try and make myself productive. But I’ll have to decide how. And as someone who has a terrible time making any sort of decision, I would honestly prefer last week’s predicament to this.

My adviser warned me this would happen.

“Enjoy it!” he’d say, whenever I complained about feeling overwhelmed by the many demands of my project.  “It’s better than the alternative.”

What he meant was that, as daunting as big projects can be, at least they give you a long-term focus. As soon as you finish one thing, you have to figure out what’s next. And that uncertainty presents a whole different kind of angst.

Fortunately, I don’t actually have to fathom that angst quite yet. As I’ve been explaining to the few friends and family asking to read my book project (bless their hearts for wanting to): it isn’t, really, done. This is just a draft on which I’m getting feedback from a committee of writers, and with which I’m earning my MFA. Many more drafts will come between now and when I’m ready to show it to the world.

So, really, I should relax: this in between time, this period of having to actually make plans for Tuesday, is just temporary. In a few weeks, I’ll be back to ignoring my taxes, my check engine light, my physical health and uncertain future.

Thank God.

Solitude Notes Cont’d: On Stephen Dunn, Anna Wintour and Just Being

So here’s my dirty little secret: sometimes, I tell people that I can’t go out because I need to be home, writing, and instead, I go home, make popcorn, and watch documentaries on Netflix.

I tell you this not to out myself to those members of my social group who I routinely turn down. (Bless them for the courtesy of persisting with the kind gesture; and, if any are reading, sorry: it’s, specifically, not personal.). Nor do I tell you this to discuss why it is that, these days, I suddenly have zero attention span for any sort of fiction–in film or in literature.

(Though, I did want to write about that, at first. And for now, I’ll quickly surmise just one possible reason: Anna Wintour, Eliot Spitzer and Bill Cunningham–the subjects of my latest three viewings–are characters so rich and vividly complex I’m not sure they could be invented.)

But anyhow. I tell you this because I have more to say on the subject of solitude. What I have to say is this: the more focus I try and summon on a creative project that requires substantial time to accomplish, the more time I require to just be, alone, not accomplishing shit.

I swear to God, I had this thought as I went to bed the other night, and then woke up, and saw that Dinty Moore had posted this quote on Facebook, from Stephen Dunn:

I think it’s really important to go to your room and sit there. The amateur writer only writes when something big happens in his or her life. Unless you have a better life than I do, you would write only three or four poems a year. So you go to your room and you wait for something to happen. You do that regularly.

In part, that’s a quote about discipline: about how writers can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike; we’ve gotta make ourselves write the sentences, even when they’re not at our fingertips.

But it’s also–I think–about the fact that creativity often requires a lot of not very creative time. A lot of not very creative time spent not out in the world, being stimulated by fashion and design and conversation. But a lot of time spent just being. With yourself. With your thoughts.

Because creativity means not just taking inspiration from the world, not just observing, but interpreting: letting ideas and images percolate, toss around, bump into one another, connect and disconnect and connect and disconnect again.

I mean, I don’t know what Stephen Dunn means by simply sitting alone in his room: I picture him just, you know, sitting there, on the edge of his bed (actually, I picture him on the edge of my bed, because I don’t know what his looks like, which is weird), his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped between them, staring off into space and thinking really profound thoughts.

But for me, and I suspect, for lots of other creative types, the really valuable time doesn’t look anything like that: the most valuable, most stereotypically inspirational (lightbulb!) moments come when we aren’t consciously seeking them. Instead, they come when we’re taking a shower, or riding a bike, or half-watching salacious documentaries. Or, of course, trying to fall asleep.

I recently commiserated with a fellow dissertating friend about how our minds will feel completely stuck, completely uninspired, sitting in front of a computer; but the moment we close it, the moment we get in bed, new thoughts come. Because the pressure’s off. Because we’re not trying to solve the next problem or produce the next idea.

Am I sounding really preachy? And does this have anything to do with anything this blog is supposed to be about? Probably, and, probably not.

But I wanted to share it because, to me at least, it’s a new and important thought.

As a social person, I generally take advantage of opportunities to engage with people, to go out and be in the world. Usually, when I say I need to be writing, I do: I need to be writing.

I mean, these days, I should basically always be writing. But no matter what my adviser says, I can’t dedicate all those hours to making the sentences. Some of them, for me, need to just be about being: with myself, with random fashion celebrities and fallen politicians, with peculiar and prying thoughts of which I may or may not ever make sense.

On The Value of a Picture

Okay. So you may recall that I mentioned (briefly, hyper-cautiously) that I had a new Thing going on. You may also recall me saying that I wasn’t ready to say much about it. (You know, right before I said things about it.) And, here I am again today: still not ready, still saying more things. Um, so it goes.

But bear with me. You may also recall that I mentioned spending time with this Person (sorry, can’t resist) in New York–a place, you likely remember, I don’t (currently) live.

In fact, neither does he. (Do you like these hints? I think we’ve narrowed it down to the world minus eight million people!) But, still: it remains the case that he and I don’t live within one, or even two thousand miles of one another.

Which is all to say: perhaps I would reveal more about what this Thing was if I, myself, knew. But, geography (and other, you know, Things) such as they are, I have no friggin clue. It’s possible that I will never see him again. It is also possible that, five years from now, we will wind up wedded and window shopping on weekend mornings in some precious East Coast enclave that features a lot of brick. (Discuss.)

An uncertainty that, as you might guess, I find not a little unsettling. But I’m adjusting. As you may, also, recall, I’ve got other things (namely: a dissertation; and: trying to sleep every once in a while) on which to focus my efforts and energies.

And, as A put it the other day, while I watched her scrub her bathtub and recounted the latest developments, at least I’ve got someone to think about.

“Exactly!” I told her, leaning my head against the tile. “Isn’t that kinda the only thing that matters!?”

Here’s the part where I share something else that’s personal, the part where my stomach churns and I momentarily question the whole dating-blog enterprise (really? I’m going to say what happened? And put it on Facebook?) and then continue on because, what the hell else am I gonna do? Attempt an ending for my dissertation? As we say in New Mexico (kind of), that’s what manana is for. Also, I’m abnormal and don’t really care.

So, here goes: over break, (before above mentioned Thing), I finally talked to M: finally, I asked him how he felt. I need only tell you that the conversation was unpleasant, and you can imagine the rest.

I don’t want to undermine the feelings I had for him or the weight of my expectations about our potential future. (Okay, I totally do. But if I did, and you never trusted me again, I wouldn’t blame you.)

But I do want to tell you this: that the day after we spoke, riding the Bolt Bus up from Washington to New York, I contemplated what seemed the most devastating impact of the conversation: who, I wondered, was I going to think about now?

It’s a question with which I anticipated grappling. The night before I talked to M, I stayed over at my friend R’s house in Mt. Pleasant.

“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” she asked as we lazed around her living room drinking tea. “Like, don’t you need those fantasies of ending up with him sometimes? Like, when you’re jogging and it’s hard?”

“Totally,” I replied–but, as I told her, I was determined to do it anyway.

A moment later, she took back her counsel: “Nevermind,” she said. “The great thing about fantasies is that you control them. Who cares what he says.”

It’s true: I could picture myself married to Brad Pitt if I want to. Pretty sure Angelina (if, you know, she happened to hear) wouldn’t consider me too big a threat.

But, sadly, I don’t. I want to have a different face to stick in those domestic daydreams of dinner-making and basketball-watching: one that the entire world and I don’t collectively encounter every time we go to Walgreens.

Because it isn’t, of course, just about the face: it’s about the comfort of having a concrete possibility. However remote it may be: I know there’s just as good a chance of me ending up with this guy (you know, the “Thing” guy) as there is for me to be with a whole handful of people I’ve never laid eyes on.

But I can’t picture them. I can picture him. And on days when I’m jogging, or lunging, or writing, for that matter, and it’s hard–that’s an option I’m pretty glad to have.

 

 

Some Notes on (Alleged) Neediness

“I have a feeling I’m going to read that online in the near future,” my mother said, giggling and smugly sipping her espresso at the Scandinavian-styled Park Slope coffee shop where we were taking a pause from our holiday mother-daughter shopping spree.

It’s not often that my mother offers sincere romantic advice–as I’ve written, between the two of us, I tend to be far more comfortable in that territory. (To her credit, not exactly a fair contest.)

But when she does, it’s reliably valuable. And, usually, pretty even: Take things slowly. Men freak out when you get emotional. Did she mention, I should slow down a little bit?

This time, though, her counsel was markedly flip: “He hasn’t texted back in two days!” I moaned to her, my lower lip in full pout.

Her reply: “Oh, come on. Don’t be so needy.”

“Who, me?” I scoffed. “Needy?” Okay I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. Instead, I raised my eyebrows and said, “It’s not that I’m needy. It’s just that I’m neurotic and anxious and paranoid. There’s a difference.” (Proof: “I haven’t texted again.”)

My mother shrugged. “Okay,” she said, and off we went: dodging strollers down 5th Avenue to the overpriced shoe store half a block away.

I had a similar exchange back in Albuquerque a few days later, as I vented to my friend A about the same thing. “Well have you been texting a lot?” she asked, turning her head and narrowing her eyes across the table. “I feel like you do that.”

“Why does everyone think I’m so needy?” I shot back. “I don’t text that much! I only talk about it!”

(A conversation reminiscent of another I had with my sister-in-law over break. Her: “Well, aren’t you obsessed with finding a boyfriend?” Me: “No! I just write about it!” My “persona” spiel, it would seem, only goes so far. But, I digress.)

Let’s set aside, for a moment, the question of how “needy” I actually am. On second thought, let’s not. Because yeah, I guess I do have some needs, and ya know what: I don’t think they’re unreasonable. (Particularly when I’m not, ahem, demanding they be met.)

Here’s what I need: I need to know what to expect from someone. That’s all. Should I expect that we’re going to be in close contact? Should I expect that we’re going to have dinner on Thursday night? Should I expect that we’re going to fall madly in love and buy a house in brownstone Brooklyn and stroll our child around on Sunday mornings, browsing expensive clogs?

I mean: is that so much to ask?

Well, according to every woman in my life–from my mother, on: yes. Apparently you can’t actually know what to expect from someone right away. Apparently you can’t even assume they know what to expect of themselves. Apparently, expecting to know expectations makes one needy.

And, heavens: we don’t want that.

So here’s the thing. I know I have to go with the flow–whatever the hell that means. I know that I should demonstrate faith in widespread wisdom about the male gender, such widespread wisdom indicating that men do not like being confronted with women’s needs, men finding it more attractive when women are independent and carefree and apparently unaffected by their behavior, however peculiar or confusing. I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. And, I am here to tell you, I’m pretty good at just doing it.

But good lord: sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m indifferent, or not thinking about someone, or not wondering whether they’re thinking about me. Sometimes, it even feels dishonest: what’s the point in pursuing emotional intimacy with a person if you can’t even be open with them about how you feel?

Did I mention that I’m not very patient?

Unfortunately, I get that from my dad.