On Transitions, Cuddles, and The Swings of Self-Care

“You need to hold yourself like a baby.”

My friend J and I were sitting on the side of a hiking trail on the eastern edge of Taos, eating cheese wrapped in red wax and examining white wildflowers and talking about what will happen when we leave.

She has some flux in her life as well, but more certainty than I. During my three months in Taos I’ve managed to upend just about everything that was stable when I arrived: my apartment, my relationship. Even my connections with family feel shifted—hurled into a different light by the (abrupt) process of change.

J turned to look at me as she held her arms out in the shape of a cradle. “Just imagine that you’re holding yourself like a child. Just imagine you need to give yourself that kind of care.”

Self-care is one of those wiggly terms whose meaning never seems to cease sliding. What does it mean to be good to yourself? It depends on what it is you need—and knowing that, it turns out, is the hard part. More and more I’m realizing how deeply, frighteningly difficult it is to know what we want: in relationships, in people, in place, in nurture. It’s easy to mistake proximity for understanding; learning our own needs takes as much work as learning those of others’. Maybe even more.

Eventually, the work I’ll be returning to is figuring out my needs in the long term. But right now, as one transition glides into another, I’ve got to focus on the immediate ones: the urgent care that I can give myself.

Which has meant, mostly, a lot of touch.

“I kind of can’t be alone,” I told A over the phone, explaining how I had spent the last couple of weeks bouncing between friends and visiting family, heaving myself into their arms, emotionally and physically. “Do you think that’s strange?”

“Are you kidding?” she laughed. “Of course you can’t be alone. Don’t.”

I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of time lying prone on friends’ floors. Draping my legs across laps. Going for hikes and walks with my arms stitched through another’s. Cuddling in a king size hotel bed with my ten-year old niece (who managed to take up a shocking amount of it). The little time I’ve found myself without company I’ve filled with baths and melancholy folk songs: Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch. Some writing. A lot of herbal tea.

“Your pulse feels homeless.”

I also spent a few hours with a woman who does Ayurvedic healing: tall and regal with a heavy French accent and penetrating green eyes, she recoiled when she saw my tongue (“It could be the poster child for anxiety!”) and paused when she held onto my wrist.

“Homeless?”

She nodded: empathic, but not exactly alarmed.

She left me with a Ziploc bag of an unpleasant-tasting wheat-colored powder. A list of foods to favor and others to avoid. Shockingly accurate insights into my restless soul.

Also, a few pieces of rather significant wisdom.

“You need to be your own mother,” she said. “You will become a mother later. But you can begin now by becoming a mother to yourself.”

In her opinion, this would mean feeding myself with more regularity and better nutrition. Taking the time to sit still each day. Learning to quiet the deep, fiery panic that resides within me and trust that regardless of where or with whom I end up, I will be alright.

In other words: cradling myself like a child.

I’m going to try it out. I’m going to keep seeking what kind of self-care will serve me best in the future. And for the moment, before I leave Taos and pack boxes and resolve loose ends and begin to make yet another round of Big Decisions, I’m going to give myself permission to lie on the floor and hold on tight to all the warm people in my path.

 

 

Notes on Rejection and Awe

When one sends out an essay on Friday and by Monday has received not one, or two, but three (three!) rejection letters, it’s difficult not to feel as though the universe is trying to tell one something.

One perk of being a person with a merely blithe belief that the universe tells one things is the attendant ease with which one can then decide what the universe is saying: in this case, of course, I concluded the universe was (rather harshly) urging me to write about getting rejected three times in forty-eight hours.

Unfortunately, all I have to say about said subject amounts to: Ouch.

Or, if I must elaborate: No matter how deeply, intellectually, I understand that all writers, even famous, brilliant writers, have gotten (still get!) their work (even good work!) rejected lots and lots of times before they get it published, no matter how many times I send work into the world only to have it come back with the literary equivalent of ‘Thanks, but who cares,’ no matter how earnestly I assure myself that it’s inevitable, that rejection is going to happen, and that it doesn’t (necessarily) mean that I am (as a person) a failure or (as a writer) failing, it still fucking sucks.  

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, allow me to move on to another, more positive, but, in a sense, equally stifling emotional experience:

Awe.

As I mentioned, I’ve been making some rather pitiful, highly unusual attempts to write poems. In effort to render said attempts less pitiful, I did what any self-respecting baby poet would do, and took out some library books—including How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch.

“The spirit of poetry is awe,” Hirsch writes.

That line hit home. Indeed, my awe-inspiring surrounding are just what’s jiggered this impulse to write poems, after thirty years in which I’ve done well to avoid it: the thick, towering cottonwood trees in my yard, the snow-covered mountains in the landscape, the way they appear a different shade of stunning below every angle of the sun and formation of clouds.

Of course, merely experiencing that moment of awe isn’t enough; perhaps, I wondered, one reason why it’s so damn difficult to write a good poem is because it is so challenging to animate, or explore, or even share, the experience of awe.

One of my favorite sections in Geoff Dyer’s totally cynical, totally awesome book Out of Sheer Rage is this moment, where he describes regarding the ocean:

The sea: you watch it for a while, lose interest, and then, because there is nothing else to look at, go back to watching it. It fills you with great thoughts which, leading nowhere and having nothing to focus on except the unfocused mass of the sea, dissolve into a vacancy which in turn, for want of any other defining characteristic, you feel content to term ‘awe.’

 

There is something inherently unsatisfying in the word ‘awe:’ it describes the impact of being struck by something, beauty or brilliance, usually the likes of which we can’t quite comprehend—but does nothing to explain it.

And, being human, we aren’t content to know that something makes us feel awe. We need to know why. It’s that pesky, ineffable need: to narrate, to explain, to create causal relationships.

A paradox of literature, and maybe all art, is that we’re endlessly striving to capture an experience that can’t be captured. Of course, art doesn’t derive its beauty or significance solely from its proximity to truth. And yet, authenticity matters: particularly when it comes to words, often what makes us swoon is recognition—the sensation of yes, I know that, that is me, that feels real.

How, then, to render the truth of something as gauzy, as deeply personal, as, often, inarticulate, as the experience of awe?

But it’s one thing to render awe, and another, quite different thing to actually experience it. In order to even contemplate the former, it seems one had better get good at the latter. And, like many an impatient, progress-driven Americans, I struggle: I can hardly notice a mountain or cloud or sea before I notice my noticing…and it’s hard to observe a moment that hardly has a chance to happen. Like Dyer, I content myself to term the experience “awe”…and then set about trying to describe an experience I’ve barely had.

(Not that I intended to even try and make this cohere, but what the heck. Perhaps that aim of lingering in the awe can be instructive when it comes to managing rejection: there are certain moments in which we must allow ourselves to linger. And others, like when you’re told you’re shitty, that you had best leave right quick.)

But anyway. I guess we’re really talking about the same mental muscle when it comes to experiencing awe, writing poems, and even reading them: the one that allows us to slow down and pay attention. Tomorrow, promise, I’ll start meditating.

 

 

On Imposter Syndrome, Coffee Rocks, And Being a Resident Artist

“I mean, I’m not going to knock on your door and ask you to show me your paintings or stories!”

Across from me, the Most Genial Man in New Mexico laughed. A painter from Memphis sat to my left; both of us wriggled in our seats. I muttered: “Maybe you should…”

We chuckled, nervously.

“No really,” the man continued, explaining how the woman who began the foundation didn’t just want artists to come and create, but also to provide them respite from their normal, urban lives.

“If you want to sleep for three months,” he said, “that’s totally fine.”

I didn’t say: Maybe for you! But I thought it.

The last, and only other time I attended an artists’ residency, I had a concrete goal: to write a new draft of my book manuscript. I had five weeks, and I used every minute (well, every minute that I wasn’t falling in love with N…) to get the thing done.

This time, I have three months, and my objectives are less concrete. When I applied, I assumed I’d be editing that book manuscript, still. I might. But at the moment it’s on pause. And so: I find myself with a cute little casita of my own, a lot of time, no obligations, and, evidently, an expectation no greater than a solid nap.

I am vastly grateful: for the charming space surrounded by tall cottonwoods, for the picnic table outside and the snowy mountains jutting along the horizon and the rock crystals that, for one dollar, a nearby coffee shop suggests you put in your coffee to aid with walking an unknown (presumably internal?) path.

And perhaps most of all, I am grateful to sit across from an exceptionally nice man (no superlative can really suffice) who makes me mint tea, looks me in the eye, and regards me as part of a community of artists–all selected on the basis of their work to come to this beautiful place, and do whatever.

Imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling I never had the words for until graduate school, when my advisor explained it.

“Every writer suffers from it,” he announced, his voice flat. “I still do.”

All artists are are beset with twin compulsions: to relentlessly expose ourselves, our intimate, deeply personal (regardless of subject matter) work to the world; and then, to relentlessly worry that it isn’t good. That we aren’t good.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that no amount of validation can convince us not only that something we’ve made is decent, but that we, personally, are worthy of acclaim–even that we are worthy of being dubbed an “artist.”

“If any writer is going places, it is Laura Van Den Berg.” That was Publishers Weekly in 2013. When asked by The Rumpus whether she ever felt she’d made it as a writer, she said, first “Not even remotely,” and then, something I’m sure I’ve heard other writers say: “I’m only as good as the next project. I’m only as good as the next book.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments: that split second right after someone sends you a nice email, or you get something published, or three hundred people hit “like” on your beloved blog post…oh wait, that never happens.

But anyway, those moments come, and then they go. And that is okay. Many writers say this insecurity is what drives them, that the need to constantly prove ourselves is what compels us to keep going.

But there is the danger that we give up: that those moments come fewer and farther between (as, for periods of time, they inevitably do), that we spend so much time doubting that we let ourselves believe the internal cynic, and we stop.

And so, while I would like to think that I will do more in these next three months than sleep, I appreciate that the value in this experience is so much more than what I might make, and so much more than the inspiration or rest I might get: simply being acknowledged, somewhat formally, by someone who is not my grandmother or my roommate or my grad school peer, that I am, indeed, a writer.

So far I have been passing the days walking around town. Reading books. Doing some yoga. Getting to know the other residents: a varied group of artists that could make the New Jersey turnpike interesting, much less a town where no one blinks at Coffee Rocks and half the (white) population has dreadlocks. And writing: mostly fiction and poetry that I’m pretty sure are unreadable.

At first, I felt something like panic: I have three months to write! I should be drafting another book! Not dabbling in genres in which I am completely worthless!

And who knows what’ll end up happening between now and April, when I go home. It’s a lot of time. But what I’m realizing is that what matters even more than what I do here is what happens when I do get home–rejuvenated, inspired, reeking of patchouli, and, hopefully, resolved to keep writing.

 

 

 

 

On Moving Back to a Place

Here is a significant sampling of the very few things I know for sure:

1. I would like to eat a Golden Pride breakfast burrito every day forever.
2. There is no place I would less like to be than any car in any city during rush hour.
3. Tomorrow is the weekend. I think.
4. Moving back to a place is a funny thing.

I’d hate to overwhelm you with my profundity, so I’ll stop there.

As you may have guessed (okay, one last thing all of us know: the last item on any list tends to be the most important/punchy), it’s that last one I’d like to discuss.

Because, for the last six months that I have been living in the Twin Cities, a place I lived before, but not in a while, “a funny thing” has been the awkward zenith of my descriptive capacity.

Another thing we sort of kind of all know (last thing for reals this time) is that perspective yields clarity, along with, sometimes, enhanced describing acumen. And so, now that I have temporarily launched myself, hyperactive puppy style, into another kind-of-sort-of familiar place (Taos, New Mexico, where I’ve spent a total of about four weeks in life and have just arrived for a three month writing residency*), it feels an opportune time to take a whack at writing about my return to Minnesota.

As the Internet often illustrates, when you don’t have anything particularly significant to say, it’s nifty to disguise your thoughts in list form. Alas, here you are:

*What happens when you mix together eighteen acres, Taos, New Mexico, three months, and eleven artists uprooted from their jobs/partners/homes many miles away? Stay tuned.

1) People move on/still exist even though you forget them.  

Soon after I moved to Minneapolis, I had a conversation with an old friend in which she mentioned a woman who both of us used to know and whom I hadn’t thought of in nine years.

“Oh, her!” I said. “So, you still hang out with her?”

“Um, yeah,” my friend said, agreeably. (Cause, you know, she’s Midwestern and all.)

She could have said, “I see her a lot,” or “Of course I do,” or, “Just because you leave, Elizabeth, people don’t stop hanging out.” All of which would have been totally fair.

Intellectually, it’s obvious that things continue to exist even when we don’t live near them/ they aren’t on Facebook or Instagram. But the whole “out of sight…” thing isn’t small: we only have so much space to which we can pay attention; tenuous ties and sizable distance inevitably take hold.

2) Minneapolis and Saint Paul are different cities.

This may seem intuitive, but when two towns sit right beside each other and share a boundary so elusive that even natives are often unsure which one they’re passing through, the divergent characters of each place are worth noting.

I went to college in Saint Paul: half my time there was spent within the confines of a bitty college campus; the other half within a radius of no more than a mile. My friends and I explored the occasional Minneapolis diner or record store, but for the most part we stayed nearby, in the well-heeled, Whole Foods-progressive neighborhood that Jonathan Franzen so aptly skewered.

Here’s what I have re-learned in the last six months:**

* Minneapolis hipsters are really really hipster-ish, like, to the degree that, if not for the negative thirty five degree wind chill, you might think you were in Portland.
* St. Paul hipsters are mostly in college. (And later might become Minneapolis hipsters, if they don’t move home to Iowa or try to make it in Chicago.)
* Minneapolis is denser, busier, and more fast-paced.
* Saint Paul (or, as one old friend used to refer to it, “Saint Small,”) has more old-world charm. It’s sleepier, has majestic residential neighborhoods with more character than those in Minneapolis, and is pleasantly less concerned with being Chicago.

**Yes, what’s happening is a list within a list. Believe it.

3) Both cities have a lot of suburbs, and a startling number of them start or end, confusingly, with the word “maple.” 

4) Smells really bring you back! Also, you don’t know anyone anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I met N at a coffee shop near my old college campus: a coffee shop where I’d spent literally hundreds of hours as a student, studying American history and literature and, mostly, preening. The décor was identical, the scent of roasting beans exactly as thick.

The place was packed. I couldn’t stop looking around: surely I’d know somebody there, surely somebody there would know me.

Nope.

My rational brain knows that people and places move on without you; my rational brain knows that nine years is a really long time, especially when expensive and transient liberal arts college neighborhoods are involved. But my senses seem sadly slow to catch up.

5) Sounds also bring you back! And, again, things and people change.

Recently, I went to a yoga class taught by a friend. It was the first class I’d been to in ages, and the music (Hanuman! Hanuman!) and the postures transported me right back to Albuquerque: I began to feel wistful for my old studio and friends there…only to realize how many of them had already left, too; how different the place would be if I were to go back. How, most often, the places we leave are never again the way we left them.

6) New bars and restaurants open a lot!

Right???

7) College acquaintances are people too!

One thing about having gone to school with fewer than two thousand others is that, by the time you graduated, you recognized pretty much everyone in your class. You probably didn’t know their name, but there’s a good chance (especially if they’re the same race as you, which, probably, they were) that you knew them by association: they were on the soccer team, or sang acapella, or hung out with a bunch of kids who smoked severe amounts of pot. There’s also a good chance that you know very little else, say, nine years later, when you run into them at a coffee shop, and realize that, despite having had a distinct area of interest/drug of choice, they are actually a three-dimensional human beings who (like you!) drinks coffee and (like you!) enjoy music and bagels and (like you?) is probably, also, pretty smart and interesting.

I told you moving back places was funny!

I hope you learned something, friends. Or at least, I hope I successfully distracted you with all of the numbers.

 

 

 

Four Conversations and, Still, A (Lot of) Question Mark(s)

“I think you have may have two competing ambitions,” he said, taking a sip of black coffee. “One, writing. Two, living in New York.”

I was sitting across from my adviser on my recent (brief) visit to New Mexico, and his comment was about to send me into the most recent in my lifelong series of mental tailspins about where (the fuck–it’s come to that) I’m supposed to live.

Less than a week later I was out at an East Village bar with my two best friends from NPR: between us, three pints of beer, a spiral notebook, and a flow chart of my future.

“We’re mapping this out,” Alison said, reaching into her bag for the requisite supplies.

Before long, after I’d fessed up to a moderately promising job interview the next afternoon, the chart had morphed into a list of bullet points under the heading, Points of Perfection. (These days, it’s a marvel my friends don’t bill me by the hour.)

“We’ll finish this next time,” Alison announced.

Still, between the two of them, they made sure I didn’t board the Q train without a couple of Big Wise Morsels.

For one, they said, it doesn’t, actually, matter where I end up. For another, there’s no such thing as where I ‘should’ go or what I ‘should’ be.

“Trust me, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions,” Douglas said, tapping his fingers against his beer as Alison and I reminded him that they’d just worked to assure me there was no such thing.

“Oh right,” he said.

Alison came to his rescue: “But you learned so much.”

“Right,” he said, nodding dramatically. “So much.”

On my walk home, I called a relative. When she asked what I was doing, I told her I’d just come from planning my life with a couple of friends.

“So, what did you decide?”

I muttered something largely unintelligible about taking things one day at a time, and pursuing some vague future that may or may not involve teaching, may or may not involve journalism, hopefully will include eventual publication, and may or may not take place within one of three U.S. time zones.

“Sounds good,” she said, ever a patient sport. “And…how does meeting a man figure into all this?”

I tell you this not to criticize this relative, who I love dearly, and whose opinion is almost always spot on. I tell you this because, despite the ferocious, entitled anger with which I responded, it was, pretty much exactly what I was, also, thinking.

“I have enough anxiety about this, I don’t need you piling on, too!” I shouted, walking down Avenue M from the subway. “How am I supposed to plan my life around a partner who doesn’t exist?

“I don’t know,” she said, nonplussed.

When D and I broke up, we talked about the fact that people around our age often latch onto relationships just to be latched onto something: we have so many options when it comes to everything else–where to live, what to do–that committing to a partner can remove some anxiety, take away one of the unknowns. Short of anything else to root yourself to, it can be tempting to pin it all on another person.

As misguided and dangerous as I know that can be, it’s also hard not to feel frustrated that it isn’t an option. And as I contemplate my next move, it’s hard, too, not to have that question looming: what about meeting someone? Where should I live so that I can? What should I do?

Short of answers, I spend my days trolling a troika of websites: from JournalismJobs to Craigslist apartment listings to OkCupid.

I know it doesn’t, actually, matter: who’s to say my chances of finding a relationship are in New York versus New Mexico versus Minnesota versus Washington? Not me, not my grandmother, not even my dear, absurdly generous friends.

Maybe I’ll start paying them.

On (Not) Going It Alone

I don’t know why I was so determined to go it alone.

I mean, for the record, I didn’t really want to drive from New Mexico to New York by myself–at least, not at first. I wanted, of course, to drive with the Guy Who I Met Right Before I Left Who, Just Before I Moved, Flaked.

(Every time I move, by the way, I contemplate this precise fantasy, with, roughly, the same guy: what could be more romantic than a cross-country road trip, fueled by budding romance? A lot of things, it turns out, beginning with lunch or dinner at Red Hot Chinese Takeout II. But no one ever told me this.)

And even when said Guy didn’t come through, I had options: friends who weren’t sure they could get the time off work but might have pulled it off with more aggressive coaxing; a brother who told me he’d buy the one-way plane ticket as soon as I gave him the word.

I didn’t, consciously, decide not to. But weeks passed, and then more, until I’d somehow, passively committed to driving by myself. The notion began to sink in that anything less would signal profound personal failure: a lack of maturity, of independence, of ability to be and do alone.

There are a lot of reasons this feeling doesn’t make sense. Mainly, I take pride in my chronic capacity to depend on other people: whether it’s sewing a button or assembling a chair or navigating a city, I’m much sooner to ask for help than try my own hand. I’m good with people and not-so-good at a lot of basic tasks: the approach strikes me as altogether more efficient.

But driving felt like something I could–and, for some reason, should–do.

Until, suddenly, it didn’t. Until, suddenly, the day before my intended departure, my dog ran away (four hours and countless hysterical phone calls later, she appeared, shame-faced, in the backyard); until it became clear that no one was going to buy my car and I’d have to drive the thing, instead of a rental, all the way; until I asked my mechanic what he thought about my VW’s cross-country prospects and he shrugged at me the way a devoted Knicks fan might if you asked them about the team’s 2013 championship odds.

“I’m starting to panic.”

I was standing in the front room of my Albuquerque house, all the doors splayed open in hopes of Bonita’s return, flinging plastic hangers alternately in boxes for shipping and bags for trash–talking, on the phone, to my mother.

She started enumerating options: I could leave my car in Albuquerque with a friend! (Not practical.) I could fly! (The dog.) Finally: “Maybe I should…I don’t know…what if I met you in St. Louis?”

I threw a pink hanger in a box. “I don’t know what to say, Mom.” I swallowed. I didn’t want to say yes. But I didn’t have it in me to say no. “I’m not going to tell you not to.”

“Well, let’s think about it,” she said, and we hung up.

Ten minutes later I was on the phone with one friend as she assured me Bonita would come back and emailing with my sister in law, who had heroically produced Lost Dog flyers, when I got a voicemail from my father: “I guess I’m meeting you in St. Louis!” he said, eager, into the phone. “Call me about flights!” (This, by the way, is apparently how marriage works.)

All day, a part of my brain had begun to hatch elaborate visions of being alone on the highway, smoke piping from the back of my car, oblivious highway drivers refusing to let me pull over. That part, as I heard my father’s message, heaved a sigh of relief.

Another part clung, stubborn, to the fantasy of going it alone: that part clenched and twisted in disappointment.

And then, it began to fade. It began to fade a few hours and less than 400 miles into my journey, when my car stopped accelerating–mysteriously, it turned out, out of oil. It began to fade further when, thanks to a highway closure and a hotel clerk posing as the real-life Kenneth from 30-Rock, it took me three hours and multiple, misdirected stretches of dark, dirt road to drive the last twenty miles into Oklahoma City. More when I clocked nine hours of driving the next day on four hours of sleep. By the time my phone charger and then phone died a couple hours outside St. Louis, that part of me was entirely gone.

“What is the universe telling me!?” I texted a friend. Short of a clear answer, she offered a sequence of cheesy platitudes in reply: “It’s always darkest before the dawn! Tough times never last, tough people do! Stay the course! You want more?”

I didn’t. But I did wonder: why was I so determined to do it myself? What was I trying to prove?

For a long time I’ve felt as though I need to demonstrate my capacity for solitude. Perhaps it’s to counter the self-crafted persona of someone who is always looking for a relationship; “I may really want a companion, but that doesn’t mean I need one!”, I seem desperate to say.

I seem slow to accept that companionship is rarely a matter of need: sure, it was great having my dad with me when the car did, actually, start to smoke nineteen miles outside of Cincinnati. Just as it was great having a friend to help me pack up my minimal supply of kitchen appliances.

If they hadn’t been there, I probably would have figured it out. But damn am I happy I didn’t have to.

 

On Boredom, Baking, and Whether Girl Needs a Crush

This afternoon I sent an enthusiastic gchat to my friend N.

“Had an exchange with a guy from my yoga class this am!” I wrote, going on to tell her how he’d introduced himself the last time we saw each other, at a different coffee shop, and how today he’d asked to share my table cause all the rest were taken, and how he turned out to be from the Midwest even though for the past two years, seeing him around, I’d assumed he was European.

She requested the requisite details, and then asked: “So, do you feel a little flame for him?”

I pondered. “Eh. I dunno. I think I’m just bored.”

So here’s the thing: I wrote a blog post about the fact that this is distinctly, absolutely, not the Year of the Boyfriend. I’ve been going around telling all my friends that this winter, I’m dedicating myself to the twin commitments of Baking and Celibacy: I’m gonna chub up and embrace it, I’ve been insisting.

(To which they generally reply, “Aren’t you still doing hot yoga?”, to which I report that indeed, I am, and, more importantly, I remember the two pairs of really cute and tight hot yoga shorts that I recently bought, and how I would still like to look reasonably cute and tight in them. When will there be a time for unabashed chubbiness? I eagerly await.)

So yeah, technically, I’m not looking. In theory, I am all about taking these next eight months to do little besides bake and write and stretch. I’m wearing a lot of loose pants and spending a lot of time in my house, and I’m loving every minute. I need another round of heartbreak like Mitt Romney needs another undocumented immigrant to mow his lawn. (Which is to say, emphatically: I don’t.)

But a crush, perhaps, is something else. All of us, I am coming to believe, need them: whether we’re single or involved, searching or celibate–there’s something uniquely energizing about having someone to look forward to running into: at the coffee shop, at the other coffee shop, at Thursday evening vinyasa.

And of course, there are all kinds of crushes: the impossible celebrity ones, the impractical student-teacher ones, those that endure for years and those that flame out the moment you see them eat arugala or dance off beat.

Whatever. I think I’ve written about this before, and I’m boring myself. Again.

The point is that regardless of whether I actually want to be with someone, I am missing that piece of it: the silly, fun, crushy piece, when you get to giggle and daydream and tell your friends that you saw a patch of his elbow in the afternoon while you were walking past the library, and do you think that’s his girlfriend he was talking to at Satellite?

And the point is that I think it’s okay: that many crushes don’t wind up leading anywhere. That often, the crush is the point: the end goal in and of itself.

As I write this, I realize it sounds familiar: I had a far more thoughtful and complex piece on a similar subject published recently on Salon: linking the kind of pleasure I get from relationship fantasies to the joy of ogling tasty-looking food photos online.

Per usual with the (outside this blog) internet, most of the comments on that essay were scathing and nasty. But some were actually insightful. One person in particular wrote that he didn’t totally buy it: that I might get some pleasure from the fantasies, but he didn’t believe I wasn’t left wanting more.

He was right: in that case–with a man who I sincerely care about, and with whom I have a genuine connection–the daydreams are a weak substitute.

But with that European-but-not guy from my yoga class who I may or may not feel an attraction to? The fantasies are exactly right, thanksverymuch.

And for now, I will happily return to checking out online recipes for chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. Those shorts be damned.

 

On How Women are Like Wine, And My Urgent Greed for Female Wisdom

If, three and a half weeks after getting unexpectedly dumped, you have to go somewhere–let me suggest that a weeklong writers’ conference is not the worst place to wind up.

Not because you will likely feel inspired and write your heart out, though, probably, you will–and that matters.

And not because it will probably take you out of town, to someplace remote and green-ish and, most importantly, out of the element-in-which-your-heart-was-broken–though that, too, matters quite a bit.

More important than all these things is this: that, in all likelihood, you will find yourself surrounded by a large number of middle-aged women.

I’m aware, this demographic is not without its’ accompanying pitfalls.

Probably, you will encounter numerous questions in regard to decaffeinated beverages and the persistently problematic temperature of this or that room. You will hear a lot about lost husbands and multiple cancer struggles and feel as though you have experienced exactly nothing. You will see multiple pairs of unfortunately bejeweled flip-flops.

But you are about to turn twenty-eight: a birthday that feels much more significant (read: traumatic) than the last, and contemplating not whether but when you are supposed to start panicking because you would like to have children not long after thirty and have absolutely no idea where you will be raising them or with whom, to say nothing of what they will be called.

And it is important for you to stop considering panic and to remember that women–all of us–improve with age.

(Note: This may be true of men too, but let’s face it: they’re starting with less.)

On multiple occasions over the past few days, I have turned to the (older) woman next to me and felt the strong urge to ask her to adopt me as her daughter.

This is not at all to suggest any inadequacy on my the part of my mother: whose beauty and brilliance I appreciate now more than ever.

But in those moments when the opening of your hips (yoga) collides with the breaking of your heart (D), making you question the significance of just about everything–including manhood, literature and sex–you need all the wisdom you can get.

I feel greedy in my pursuit of elder female knowledge, like an aggressive shopper at the Union Square DSW during clearance: I want all the product I can cram  in the little time I’ve got. I want it in abundance. I want it immediately. And I want it in bright colors and interesting fabrics. (Just go with it.)

It’s not that the advice they’ve given me has been extraordinarily insightful. It’s that their delivery is so assured. As women get older, we grow into ourselves: we grow more and more comfortable with who we are and how we look, the things we can and cannot do.

And I kept hearing the same version of a story: single for twenty or thirty years. Four marriages. Heartbreak and loss. And then: happiness. It was only when they had truly grown into themselves, achieved their ultimate in confidence and strength, they said, that they were able to find an equal.

And so I stare at these women, awed by their poise and elegance, their agility with liquid eyeliner and strength in downward dog, and I try to tell myself that it wouldn’t be so bad: that if I wound up having to wait until I match their confidence and grace before I find a partner who is truly worthy, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

It’s hard to accept that you might not find the fantasy: that you might not follow the path you (and everyone else) always imagined. But you simply can’t predict how your life will play out.

And, sadly (for me), for all the generous wisdom and insight these older women provide, neither can they.

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.

Team Tannen Forever

The first time I got sick from alcohol, at fifteen, I was with all three of my older brothers–at a Christmas party that my oldest brother M’s best friend held annually at his Tribeca loft.

It wasn’t their fault. Each time I finished off a Heineken, said best friend would swing by and replace it; before anyone could have seen or stopped it, I found myself in the bathroom with M holding my hair back and showing me how to use my fingers to make myself throw up. (A skill that, not too many but a few times since, I have been very, very grateful for.)

Putting me to bed that night, my brother J’s then girlfriend made the well-intentioned but misguided move of placing my trash can next to the bed. The parents were furious with all of my brothers for months.

If you’ve ever been a sibling, you can understand that, as the baby girl, I will always be the baby girl: at fifteen, at twenty-seven, at forty. There is a way in which, in my family’s eyes, I will never be as accountable as my older brothers.

A fact that, I’m sure, was in the back of J’s mind when he took me, today, to get matching tattoos: my first, his a small complement to the collection that already fills both his arm sleeves.

So here’s the story:

Up until last Friday, I’d always told people that I “didn’t understand” tattoos.

“I just don’t get it,” I’d say. “I can’t imagine any image that I’d know I’d want on my body forever.”

And then, a day before he and his wife D arrived in New Mexico after driving six days in a rented minivan to get here, J sent me a text: “Tiny matching tattoos in NM?!”

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