The Knicks, the New Yorker, On Kawara and Making Sense

“He sounds pathetic.”

I was standing in the entry of my parents new midtown apartment, and my father had just emerged from his office/my sometime bedroom, where, minutes earlier, I had set before him the latest issue of The New Yorker–one that, the morning prior, whilst sitting at gate C4 of the Minneapolis airport, I had found to feature a Talk of the Town about a man I used to date. Specifically, about the fact that (as the piece informed me) said man had left his lawyer job to follow around the New York Knicks for a full season and blog about it.

“Well, that’s harsh,” I said, miffed.

I’d found the whole thing pretty charming. He and I, after all, had bonded over the Knicks, our first date drinks at Clyde’s, a subsequent several watching games, and since seeing the article I’d been indulging various one that got away fantasies (I was just thinking of him earlier this week…we did part ways for reasons more to do with context than chemistry…), even checking to see whether he was free for coffee over the weekend. (Alas, as neatly as they’d brought us together, the Knicks and their road games pried us apart: Would love to catch up, he wrote, but in the morning I fly to Denver.)

Friends were similarly inclined, offering such enthusiastic affirmations as Wow! Wild! and Did I meet him? I vaguely remember thinking he was cute. 

My father and brothers, on the other hand (Knick fans most): less enthused. I caught their drift. Sure, the guy might be giving up a perfectly good career and life savings for, potentially, the worst team in NBA history. But, I strained to reason, at least he’d gained some media attention! The possibility of a book deal! Probably, the faintly renewed interest of at least a few ex-girlfriends!

And, of course, the obvious: a purpose.

Two days later my mother and I spent a storybook sunny Manhattan day: a walk, a shop, a museum. She would have preferred to see some mid-century paintings at The Met, but, game woman that she is, humored me for a visit to the Guggenheim, where I was interested in checking out a retrospective of works by the conceptual artist On Kawara.

Among the items on view: canvases adorned only with the written date, hung beside a (seemingly arbitrary) newspaper cutout; maps of cities overlaid with the artist’s travels; binders filled by typed lists enumerating people he’d met in a given day.

I was most enamored by a display of postcards sent to friends announcing I got up at 10:45 pm and I‘m still alive, don’t worry. It reminded me of that familiar impulse, upon getting off a flight, or waking up on a Saturday morning, or getting through a class, to call someone (usually my mother, and usually, I don’t) just for the vague comfort that this matterssomeone cares, I’m here. 

It reminded me, too, of the way that I sometimes lapse into thinking a partner will supply me with purpose. (When, in fact, the only thing I know I can rely on to provide the kind of shape and urgency I am prone to crave is writing.)

Before taking her leave for the miniature Kandinsky exhibit and the gift shop (where she purchased postcards to write her granddaughters–presumably less cryptic–missives), my mom dispensed some characteristically sage insight.

“It’s striking how unemotional it all is,” she said.

Indeed, the curators noted the distance Kawara maintained from his work, how one could fully absorb the art without gleaning much at all about the life or attitudes of its creator.

“I guess so…” I said.

But, I had to tell her, I kind of disagreed.

Strolling up the Guggenheim’s grand, sun-lit ramp, I felt rather close to Kawara. There’s a way in which, I thought, it tells me a lot about a person that they send John Baldessari deadpan postcards, that they chronicle dates in Heveltica font on plain painted canvases, that they make maps and binders and newspaper cut-outs in elaborate effort to represent the fact of their existence in the scheme of time.

On the surface, I can see how Kawara’s gestures appear cold and calculated. But beneath, I think there’s a rawness, a desperation, even; a literal and very human expression of a very human need: to imbue our leaves with meaning, with purpose.

The way I reacted to the exhibit shed some light on how charmed I’d felt by Dennis’ project: whether it takes the form of conceptual art or a (maybe mildly misguided) dedication to one of sports’ most terrible teams, I find something inherently appealing about a person making great grasps to figure it out.

Figuring it out, I know, is not a luxury we all have. You need not walk many blocks in this, or any city, to feel reminded of the many whose daily survival is nothing short of heroic, not to mention exhausting: if I had to work a menial job, feed a bunch of kids, care for my or someone else’s aging parents, commute multiple hours in packed subway cars or on interstates…well, I doubt I’d write this blog or peruse museums or read much of anything. (Although, who’s to say? Maybe my idle time is a curse and if I had eight children and overtime I’d be on my fourth novel by know. We’ll never know.)

But among the few with more fortune and flexibility, I applaud those who try and seek some framework, some narrative, make some comment on what the hell it might mean to get out of bed in the morning.

When someone suggests (whether earnestly or absurdly, or from some unknown place between) that their purpose might be all about the people they meet or the places they walk or the fortunes of a basketball team, it prompts the rest of us to consider not only what that might mean, but what purpose we have in our own lives.

And that’s something, I think we can all agree, we should probably consider more.

Post Mother’s Day Ode #2 to My Most Lovable Mom

Newsflash: contrary to what one sometimes thinks when single, being in a relationship does not make all one’s problems go away.

Having to move bedrooms? Way easier. Dealing with car problems? Definitely improved. Frequent, fragile mood swings and persistent insecurity about one’s body and talent? Thriving as ever.

One thing, though, that it turns out is a bit easier for me, when I’m attached, is my relationship with my mother.

Now, my mom and I, overall, have a pretty solid relationship. I’d say it’s above average, easily. We talk several times a week. We both have fairly easygoing temperaments. We each think the other is, objectively (yeah, right), pretty darn interesting and lovely and smart.

But as I write in a new essay, featured today on the website Style Substance Soul (like the cross self-promotion at work here? A girl’s gotta do…), it’s not always entirely rosey.

I tend to focus on the ways in which my mother and I alike: you know, on those tics and mannerisms of hers that, because I recognize them in myself, find consistently, irrationally, repulsive: the way we say “hmmm” when other people talk, even when we aren’t listening; the face we make when we look in the mirror. Etc.

But in truth, we are quite different people. As you may have noticed if you are reading this blog, I’m pretty comfortable being open about most things, excessively intimate details of my personal life included. My mother? Not so much.

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On The/My Constant Need for Constant Praise

About an hour after my latest blog post, I sent a message to my friend N.

“Can you read my new post!?” I wrote. “I haven’t gotten any response yet and I’m starting to panic!”

“Sure!” she wrote back. Of course.

And, of course, a few minutes later: “It’s great! I like the writing and the questions!”

I knew, before and after, that this was an absurd exercise. How did I expect her to respond? “Eh, not your best”? “Okay, but the prose is mediocre and the ideas mundane”?

(Perhaps another friend, though I’m pressed to produce a name, would have offered such candid feedback–but certainly not this one.)

And yet, I immediately felt better. At least one person thought what I had written was decent. Or so, at least, I could tell myself.

Did it appease my insecurity entirely? Of course not. I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon compulsively checking Facebook, to see if anyone else had “liked” the post, and my email in hopes that someone had left a comment.

(And then, after various errands, I got in bed and watched multiple episodes of my new Netflix addiction, “Friday Night Lights.” No, I am not proud of any of the above.)

But when it comes to the need for validation, is it ever enough? Are any of us–those of us, creative types, who habitually put things into the world and then pin our entire self-worth on that world’s response–ever fully satisfied by what we receive?

Recently, I heard an anecdote about a Nobel-Prize winning writer–Nobel Prize winning–who called up an acquaintance in a state of panic because a reviewer had noted that her most recent book was her best since the one she’d written two before. “What?” the writer pleaded. “Was the last one not any good?!”

The story seemed incomprehensible to me when I heard it. How could someone whose life’s work and accomplishments had been recognized so profoundly, so thoroughly, so consistently, possibly retain any shred of self-doubt?

Still, it’s difficult to fathom. But whether or not you buy it, the anecdote illustrates just how powerful that need is: that desperate, urgent need for external recognition.

Last semester I read an essay called “Why Write?” by the poet Alan Shapiro, published in  Best American Essays 2006. It’s a great essay, but the part that has stuck with me is about this very thing: the infinite cycle that is the writerly desire to be validated.

He describes thinking, as a teenager, that all he’d need to make him truly happy was to publish a poem in a single magazine. And then once he did, he thought he’d be truly validated if he could publish in a place like The New Yorker. And as soon as he did that, it would be to write a book. And then to get a good review.

And so on, and so on, until he concludes that “even if God Himself, the Lord Almighty, hallowed be His name, came down from heaven and gave me a big fat kiss on the back of the brain, I’d probably shrug if off: ‘What? That’s it? For years you don’t write, you don’t call, and now all I get is a lousy kiss?’”

He goes on: “Don’t get me wrong. Acclaim of any kind is wonderful…But even at its best, that sort of ‘reward’ or ‘recognition’ is like cotton candy: it looks ample enough until you put in in your mouth; then it evaporates. All taste and no nourishment.”

Perhaps, though, the need for recognition is part of what drives people, pushes them to keep producing even once they’ve achieved some measure of success. And while, like Shapiro, I’d like to think that what motivates us is nobler than that, I also think the desire makes sense.

After all, the reason we write–or at least, the reason I write–is to connect. To assure others, and ourselves, that our experience isn’t totally unique. I don’t know a less cheesy way to say it. And I know there are other reasons, other values and other pleasures, to be found in creating. But I do believe that at the core of it all is connection.

And if that’s the desire, than doesn’t it make sense, and isn’t it a little bit important that we’d want to know we’ve succeeded? I don’t like it, but I think it might–even if we’ll forever be wanting to succeed a little bit more.

Dating-While-Blogging Hazard #8,232

The other day I got a Facebook message, a very sweet Facebook message, from one of D’s friends whom I’d recently met. Said friend told me, as she put it, what she would write if she and I were to pass notes between Geometry and Study Hall.

She signed off by assuring me that D also leaves the toilet seat down at her house–thereby assuring me that he does in fact posses one certifiable flaw (for the record, he’s improving), and that she has been reading my blog.

This is a wrinkle of the whole dating-blog-meets-real-relationship event that I did not anticipate. Namely, that I would become Facebook friends with friends of D’s, that they would find my blog, and that they would then know things about him–and his oversharing girlfriend–that he might feel uncomfortable with them knowing.

Now, as this anecdote illustrates, I don’t think I have yet revealed, nor do I intend to reveal anything about D that those around him don’t already know. But still. It’s awkward.

“Oh, shit!” I said to my NY S (who, blissfully, visited me this weekend) when I saw the end of that message. “D’s friends are reading the blog!”

“Yeah,” she replied, in the same tone of voice she always uses when I gripe to her about the various complications I’ve imposed upon myself by blogging about my personal life. And then she said what she always says: “You’re gonna have to figure that one out.”

(I feel obliged to point out that S is generally a font of extreme helpfulness and compassion, and is absolutely supportive of my writing; she just happens to have a slightly skeptical stance when it comes to her best friend exposing herself so recklessly on the internet, for which I cannot blame her.)

Of course, it doesn’t bother me that his friends are reading: in the past year-plus I’ve happily adjusted to the fact of my readers including people who teach me, people who I teach, various ex-boyfriends, and my maternal grandmother. I’m over it.

But D didn’t sign up for this kind of exposure. I thought his decision not to read himself (one that he has, I’ve confirmed, been adhering to) would solve the problem: so long as he’s not reading what I write, our relationship could exist outside the realm of my online musings.

And so far it has. Mostly.

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you,” he said to me at a coffee shop yesterday, looking up from his novel with a giant grin. “A few of my friends have asked me about your blog!”

“Oh god,” I said. Again.

“Yeah, it’s funny,” he went on. “They’ve like, asked me if I know about it!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Funny.” And then, flush with guilt, (I had gone and “friended” these people! what had I been thinking!?): “I can avoid being ‘friends’ with people you know on Facebook. I’m really sorry.”

“Oh no,” he replied, not missing a beat. “I don’t care! It’s just funny!”

“Really? You don’t mind your friends reading my blog?”

“Not at all. Why would I mind?”

I could have answered this question in earnest: could have suggested that it might make them uncomfortable, that at some point someone might tell him something they’ve read that he didn’t want to know, that the whole enterprise seemed, to me, like risky business.

But I didn’t. Instead, I took a breath, looked at him lovingly (no, we haven’t said it yet, those of you folowing at home), and did what I ‘ve always done upon encountering states of panic about possible effects of blogging: resolved not to worry about it until I have to.

Or, you know, until I blog about it.

Some Thoughts on (Possible) Love

Hello, everyone. I’m sorry it’s been a while, but I have two excuses.

One, I just decided to start a big writing project that will require a strong exercise of discipline, and I am not very good at exercising discipline at all, and if I am ever going to exercise discipline successfully, I can only concentrate said discipline on one thing.

Two, for the first time since I started blogging, I am in a relationship. A real relationship. As in there is a person who I can introduce as “my boyfriend” without panicking that he will race immediately from the room/board the next available flight to Panama/think that I’m crazy.

(I was fairly sure that this was the case, but, for the record, did wait for D to initiate the gesture by introducing me as “his girlfriend” before I began to reciprocate. I hear Panama is lovely this time of year.)

Now, as I’ve told you, at the outset D made the very thoughtful gesture of offering not to keep reading my blog. (I don’t mean to classify it as heroic for someone to deny themselves the pleasure of my writing–though he does like reading it–but, well, you get my drift.)

What I have not told you is that I promptly sabotaged his generosity by informing him that there would be some posts he could read–thereby putting myself in the awkward position of having to determine whether each entry is or isn’t “D-friendly.”

(For reasons that may be no more complicated than ego, I have an oddly fierce desire for people–like my parents, and now boyfriend–for whom reading my blog is a distinctly perilous endeavor, to read it anyhow.)

But I digress. The point is that D, thanks to my ego/idiocy, may or may not be reading this. And so I hesitate to write, well, anything. But especially this.

What I lack in discipline, though, I make up for in fecklessness. So here we go.

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The Problem With Memoir?

Last week my father sent me a link to an article about memoir from the New York Times: “it’s terrific, well written, and very funny” he wrote.

I had seen the headline–”The Problem With Memoirs”–but at that point, I hadn’t read it. Probably I hadn’t read it for the same reason I often don’t read New York Times articles: that I didn’t have time. Or at least, thought I didn’t have time. (Who has time to read whole news articles when there are endless Facebook statuses to skim and the internet is crowded with pretty pictures of lemon tarts and raspberry linzer cookies you like to fantasize about baking? Welcome to my world.)

But possibly I also didn’t read it because, well, because the headline promised a pretty direct attack on what I do.

It’s hard not to feel insecure about the impulse to write memoir. That article hammers home, rather agressively, the worst stereotype about the genre: that it’s filled with narcissistic, over-sharing attention whores shamelessly appealing to readers’ most base, voyeuristic impulses.

Now, I have never claimed that I don’t like to overshare. I’m not proud of this trait, but I accept it. The narcissistic label is one that I, with varying degrees of success, try and resist. Do I like attention? Sure, who doesn’t. (Okay, lots of people. But those of us who do aren’t exactly a minority.)

Should everyone who exhibits these traits write memoir? Of course not. Honestly, I think it’s really hard to write successful nonfiction. But it’s possible. It’s possible if you write well.

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Good Stories and Bad. Or, Why the Word “Dating” Sucks.

“I think he might date a lot,” I said to S recently, by way of attempting to articulate what my reservations might be about someone I’ve seen a couple of times and altogether like.

“So?” she replied. “You kind of date a lot.”

My instinct was to respond indignantly: “No I don’t.” But before I could even find the words I mentally checked myself: actually, I realized, I kind of do.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“So, what’s wrong with that?” she asked.

It’s not only that I didn’t have a good response to her question, it’s that I didn’t have any response.

In telling the anecdote yesterday to my friend E–the sometime biking buddy I’ve hardly seen since she started medical school in August–we wound up having a nearly identical exchange.

“I knew you’d have boy stories,” she exclaimed with unbridled enthusiasm, crossing her legs and turning to face me in the corner booth at Flying Star–where’d nominally come to study. “Tell me stories!”

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Why Blog?

Last night I went out for beers with my visiting friend D: the colleague and drinking buddy I wrote about often until he had the audacity to finish his MFA and move to a different time zone.

For the sake of consistency and nostalgia, we talked about our love lives. I told him that I still haven’t figured out when it’s appropriate for me to inform a potential love interest about my blog.

“Is it okay to wait until at least a second date to tell someone?” I asked.

“Of course!” he assured me. “A girl once didn’t tell me until our second date that she had herpes!”

And so–in hearing my occupation as a blogger compared to a sexually transmitted disease–I, for the approximately third time in thirty-six hours, seriously questioned the prudence of this entire enterprise.

Well, not exactly the entire enterprise. More the particular enterprise of my writing being so focused on my love life.

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Love and Sex and Parents: Some Notes

My parents, as I’ve mentioned, read my blog. Also, as I’ve probably also mentioned, I talk to my parents. A good amount. We talk about our daily routines. The latest subway delays. The latest in family gossip. What meals we’ve eaten and cooked. We talk about the weather.

We do not talk about my blog.

Occasionally (and with diminishing frequency–though, to be fair, my posts have diminished in frequency, too), my mother will comment that she found something “funny” or “cute.” Also occasionally, my father will leave a cryptic comment using the pseudonym of one of their chocolate labradors’ names.

But besides that, the subject of my writing–or, more broadly, my dating life–does not really come up.

Now, I don’t blame my parents for this. No one wants to think their parents or children have sex at all, much less know the particulars.

And yet, I, and perhaps one, would think they’d have gotten used to it. It’s been about eight months since I’ve been writing this thing. Longer since I began publishing essays about love and sex. I would think, by now, they would have grown accustomed to the enterprise: that my dramatic openness with the virtual world about my romantic life would have–at least, a little bit–expanded the openness I can have with them on the subject.

It has not.

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What Do You Do When…

So: what do you do when fall comes, you’re enrolled in a creative writing program, you write a blog, and you have absolutely no inspiration to write?

In short, you inhabit a constant state of guilt and panic about the things you aren’t writing. (Especially the magnificent silence you produce in response to a massive New York Times Magazine feature addressing exactly your subject matter and on which seemingly everyone on the internet has at least 140 characters to say.)

You allow yourself to focus on various other tasks that more readily demand attention, like planning classes and making attendance spreadsheets and doing your own reading multiple times because you were too distracted the first few contemplating bad essay ideas and thinking about how unproductive you are. You try and reassure yourself that you aren’t the only person in the world who is deadline-driven, and attempt to ignore the comment made by one of your professors that usually, people who say they write best on deadline, only write on deadline.

You read a nonfiction essay in which the narrator equates the discipline of running marathons with that of his writing practice, only to realize that his logic is flawed. You go to the gym.

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