Sunday, January 31, 2010

Just in time for Valentines Day

A man in a bar kissed my hand last night, and I am still floating. He is unavailable. But I am enjoying the feeling…which seems to encapsulate my emotions about New Orleans so far. I am bewitched, and the door is closed, all at the same time.

Houses all over the city now have their Mardi Gras bling up (as of a week or so ago), which consist of green, gold, and purple decorations. Often there are rows of beads slung over a black iron fence, or there are masks, the main Mardi Gras symbol. The other day I saw two shiny paper masks displayed beside each other on someone’s door: a happy and a sad face. It reminded me of the Tibetan Buddhist deities I learned about during my years working for a Buddhist publisher—there is often a duality to them, with one deity possessing several aspects (masks?), such as peaceful and wrathful. The wrathful face of the deity, which can be frightening to look at, is supposed to be helpful to meditate on in order to give a space to that part of one’s experience or emotions…and to channel that energy so it can be used to fuel something ultimately beneficial, not only to oneself but to all beings and all life. (Here are a few names I found, translated from the Tibetan, of some wrathful deities: “Hidden Sheet of Mail,” “Horse Neck,” “Great Black One”) If there had been a concept like this in Catholicism, maybe I wouldn’t have left. Anyway, seeing the side-by-side faces so theatrically and anonymously trumpeting the duality of the basic human experience, in this city that juxtaposes rich and desperately poor, celebration and mourning (as in the expression “jazz funeral”), I had a thought I jotted down in the notebook in my purse: sorrow and joy are masks of the true destination.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I’ve kinda had a fantasy, of late, of becoming a Jew, as Charlotte of Sex and the City put it (it always sounds weird to say “Jew,” but this is the correct street term, yes?). And, unrelated but related: I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I admire her integrity in so clearly laying out her thoughts and feelings (mostly thoughts) about intimacy and marriage, and I enjoyed it, not as much as her previous book written when she was miserable…but one thing sticks out. She asked women of her acquaintance and, one assumes, high intelligence level and socio-economic status, why (God, why?) marriage appeals to them given all the bullshit that has gone along with it, and its high non-success rate. One woman replied that she just wants to feel “chosen” in a special way by someone, above all others, officially, and thus affirmed in front of the world (symbolized by the wedding day). It’s clear that Gilbert is a bit horrified by this desire though she makes polite noises about respecting it…as if such a wish is mainly immature, like a toddler’s temper tantrum that is all ME ME ME, CHOOSE MEEE!

Tonight I was thinking of my ex-husband…something about life lately has stirred up the specter of my failed marriage (not Gilbert’s book, in particular)…and I Googled our names together to see if any trace of our union remained in cyberspace. (I had read an interview with him in 2008, on the occasion of his winning an NEA or Pushcart, in which he cleanly omitted me from his biography, admitting only to his first, 14-year marriage. Soon after, he remarried; and I assume he did not want it widely known that this was his 3rd. Can I blame him?) I was strangely comforted to find one entry surviving: an old bio that accompanied one of his published works and stated that “he and his wife, Elizabeth Green, live in Alabama.” I was compelled to read the sentence several times, with tears pricking my eyes, just letting the “chosen-ness” soak in: I had been chosen. I was (and on this webpage still am) a “wife.” I was one of them! Someone had loved me that much.

In a life that feels like a bridge burning under my feet as I run (I assume I’m not alone in this feeling), this idea of a solid identity of some kind—one that binds me permanently to something larger, to the enduring social structure—feels necessary and poignant. I am always forlorn on holidays when there are no special rituals to mark them. Nothing I invent feels as if it has enough weight and texture behind it. It doesn’t count. Hence the idea of adopting a religion, a culture: so I can add a bunch of special days to my calendar and on those days, participate (with other people, ideally) in actions/events that humans have been performing, with their own individual nuances, for thousands of years. I want to be part of that club.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

This is one of the most challenging times of my life, but there have been others. I was thinking this while walking through my subtropical neighborhood this morning with its narrow cobblestone sidewalks, having just broken off another friendship with another woman who disappointed me. I seem to keep paring my life down to almost nothing, then expecting to survive on the scraps. What is it in me that is so ferocious, and so hungry?

I recall being 22 and dyeing my Italian hair blonde “to own the glam,” I wrote in a notebook. Whatever that means. I was writing a lot in a notebook, in lieu of actual human contact. I had recently graduated college and ended a highly dysfunctional 1-year relationship with someone I was still in love with. I shared a house with 2 guys, fellow graduates of my school, who drew breasts and penises on our bathroom wallpaper, used a Victoria’s Secret catalogue as toilet paper once, and didn’t seem to like me very much. Well, one of them did climb into bed with me at 3 AM one morning, and we ended up smoking on the front porch both naked (but not post-coital), tapping the ashes into a tomato sauce can, in a moment I am not sure really happened. But that’s another story and for the most part the 2 men avoided me, and vice-versa. I read a lot of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Khalil Gibran, as well as dipping into the Confessions of St. Augustine: not a good idea if one is young, female, and looking for reasons to live. Due to severe indecision regarding my future, I worked late-night and early morning hours at a hipster coffeehouse in Collegetown. All the regulars, mainly Cornell students, smoked and the windows—high up at the front of the atmospherically dark, narrow space—were tinted brown-yellow from it (this was just before smoking in such places was banned in New York State). I inhaled a pack a day of Camel or Winston Lights, not yet having become scared of actually dying—it seemed so far off, no matter my destructive behaviors. Yet there was a vivid beauty to that time, maybe because of its intense, on-the-edge quality. I remember walking home from work at 3 AM, after sweeping and mopping the floors to the pounding beat of Tricky and slamming dirty pint glasses into the 3 sinks behind the bar. I had an adrenalized feeling of just having accomplished something physical and real and having been set free into the night on my own, into a pure loneliness that was the blue of snow or water on those northern streets; trees and their shadows; streaks of moonlight on car windows that slid past on my walk up the hill to the Belle Sherman neighborhood, where all the families in the houses around ours were bedded down for the night together.

This patina of grace does not adhere to memories of London in the fall of 1995, when I lived there on study abroad, and desire and isolation made me feel I was on the edge of the earth alone. All I could think about was a ponytailed guy back in the States whom I had been orbiting for several semesters as he dated other women, talking about them with me at length (one of his most memorable musings was scatalogical: "I give part of a shit about you, part of a shit about Chloe..." and he went on dividing the imaginary shit between all of us women in his life, who would doubtless have been happy to receive it). My flatmates—students from my college, who had been friends before we lived together—were not so much speaking to me, maybe because none had been trained to deal with a clinically depressed person. They explored the city with its street markets and museums, gleefully stuffed the Thanksgiving turkey, dressed the male students from our group in drag, and otherwise acted like 19-year-olds enjoying a foreign country. I kept a bottle of Bailey’s under the bed, and had to call my friends in the States at weird times like 3 AM—10 PM back home—from those red outdoor British phone booths. It seems that I spent the 3 months either in a phone booth, with the Baileys in my purse; or in the darkness of the movie theater in Leicester Square watching the latest American films alone, night after night, using a Visa Gold provided by my mom (to her later rue). In retrospect, looking at it all through a rational lens, I’m aware that London is a fabulous, world-class city. But I didn’t see it. All I experienced was my misery.

I’ve lost days, months, even years of life to this dark force. Living with it is like hauling around a black hole, so that various holidays and events get sucked in and I wake up somewhere else: older, clearer about what keeps happening, but no more enlightened.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Indian Feast

I react to the possibility of joy, it seems, by cooking large quantities of cauliflower curry and stuffing myself with as much as possible.

I’ve been saying to my friend Danielle over the phone: I just need one thing to go right. Then yesterday and today, just after I’d had this big-feeling realization (again) that I need to go back to school to become a therapist—and stop trying to miserably carve myself into another person—the following non-negative things happen: my landlord calls saying he will replace the heater under my freezing old house with a new one twice its size. One of my new poems, part of my second collection (though the first has yet to find a home) is accepted for publication in a great journal. And I have a really nice, possibly imaginary moment with a really French (really married?) bartender at my favorite restaurant. Ah, oui?

This morning, after getting the email about my poem, I decided to keep my daughter home a second day from daycare though her fever was gone, and that we would have a relaxed day.

First, we both mourned the sudden absence of the huge sparkly Christmas tree inside the little "mall" adjacent to my daily coffee shop. Our ritual is to retire to this open indoor space, framed by a few little shops, where I sit on the bizarrely unstable/uncomfortable benches and crunch sugar from the bottom of my iced coffee while she plays, going up and down the mini flights of stairs; touching the ornaments on the now-retired tree; or, sometimes, kneeling to do number 2 in her pullup (“I have to poop” she unselfconsciously announces).

After, we went to Borders, where she made me buy her yet another clear rubber ball with glitter floating inside (this one also has a smart-alecky white cube with writings on it, like fortunes: “in your dreams” and “true dat”), and to Whole Foods (“whole paycheck”), where I assembled the ingredients of what I thought of shimmeringly as an Indian feast. When I’m depressed I don’t cook and just want salt, sugar, and wine to be IV’d into me. So to be gathering the potatoes, tomatoes, lemon, and large goldish cauliflower into plastic bags felt hopeful.

The other morning, following the revelation about returning to school, I had a dream that I wanted to keep while it was going on. I lived in a house with a group of people. The house was beautiful and complex: large, and with an architecturally impressive or interesting design I studied from outside and in, trying to memorize its vivid, real-seeming details. The environment inside was very warm and free in a way unfamiliar to my waking reality, past or present. In this house, I could just be or express anything publicly, in front of the people around me, and feel embraced and self-accepting.