Monday, December 12, 2011

The waiting

I made fun of online dating on this blog ( a while back. But now I’ve decided to try it, using a free site. Some thoughts a few days in:

1. As in life, the men I like and those who like me are two different categories.

2. Being a 36-year-old baby mama does not make me part of the most popular demographic in men’s eyes.

3. I seem to fare better in bars, where my age and parental status are not immediately apparent. Online, it's like they are written on big signs that people see before they register anything else.

4. But I have to try it because all the couples I know met online.

5. Because relationships that start in bars are unlikely to lead to feeling loved.

6. And Christmas break is coming up—the time when my grad-school friends leave town. Might as well go out with strangers so as not to asphyxiate of boredom.

7. Dating sites subject you to a lot of junk-email from folks who CANNOT SPELL OR USE GRAMMAR.

8. Yet they also increase your odds of having an important encounter with someone you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

9. If love is a hotel, online dating is like the hallway. As you walk through, checking out the people passing by or beckoning you toward slightly-open doors, you think: “In the past, I have always just rushed into a room in this hotel. And then I woke up 12 hours later, bruised, robbed, and with no real idea what happened...”

10. It would take only one really good date to make this worthwhile.

And this, from T.S. Eliot (in “East Coker” from Four Quartets):

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -Mary Oliver

Recently I got several boxes in the mail from my mother, mostly full of stuff from my daughter’s 4th birthday party over the summer. It was like Christmas for Sara as I opened each box, and toys emerged that she thought she had lost or maybe dreamed of—a mermaid doll that changes colors in the tub, Buzz Lightyear, a few plastic Smurfs (which she calls “Smurths”).

My mom also sent along a surprising item: my passport, not used since I lived in London for three months on study abroad. The photo was taken when I was 16, and I always thought it was awful. In it I sport a puffy, shoulder-length perm,un-groomed eyebrows, braces, and no makeup. But now, I see something different—for instance, someone who could go without makeup and still look OK. But the picture doesn’t matter.

See, I have a flying phobia—circa post-9/11. And I have “had” depression circa way before that. More than the fear of airplanes or terrorists, depression has kept me far from the world I began to explore in high school and college; from connecting to other places and people outside my own sadness. And yet the stamps on my passport remind me that I was once in Vaduz, Lichtenstein (where I remember climbing many stairs to the top of an old Olympic ski slope); Heathrow and Gatwick airports; Greece; and back in New York City on November 30, 1995, when I returned from my months in England. I had also visited Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and a tiny, ancient part of Turkey, where I bought a little souvenir keychain: a brass figurine of a man with a disproportionately large, erect penis, some kind of fertility symbol. But I wouldn’t say my life after that was very fertile.

Depression creates an inner, and eventually outer, landscape inhospitable to life. Basically, in this state of mind it’s like there is an immovable obstacle between me and anything I might want or need to do, whether it’s to take a walk at the park, play with my child, do homework (I’m a grad student), make plans for the weekend, work a job, write a poem, cope with normal feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety, or even open my mail. And the most frustrating or debilitating thing is that no one else sees that I have an illness that is walking and talking for me; not even me. Instead, I beat myself up for my lack of motivation, my inability to do this or that.

A couple months ago, I had a vast realization—this is really how it felt—that this identity, of being a depressed person, actually doesn’t have to be permanent. I am 36. And I have struggled through depressive episodes for 18 years now, since my grandfather died of lung cancer during my second week of college. But what if in the next parts of my life, I am going to be an essentially different person: one who isn’t depressed? I was walking in my neighborhood when I first had this astounding thought...It had been a bad weekend. The previous day, I’d spent all afternoon lying in bed. That was Sunday, and my daughter kept wandering in from where she was playing in her adjacent bedroom, probably wondering what was going on with me. As I walked over the broken, tilted old sidewalks I thought about the kind of parent I want to be: one who is not one day remembered by her child as having spent days in bed. I suddenly conceived of the depression as a separate thing—as not really “me,” but as something else that had been added and could be un-added.

At this point on my walk, I noticed a house that I have passed many times since I moved to this neighborhood two years ago. Whenever I’d previously seen it, the house—white, two-story, over a century old, with a dark-blue mansard roof—was under renovation. There was a dumpster out front full of materials being discarded in the process. (This is a common sight on the streets of New Orleans.) The house, I now saw, was done; the dumpster was gone. I could see into the row of tall front windows, made of wavy old glass, into a spacious room whose walls had been painted a delicate, vibrant shade of yellow similar to egg yolk. It looked like no one was living there yet. For some reason that glimpse of color through the glass moved me, and tears came to my eyes. The empty yellow room was somehow my hope of not being depressed—what it would look like. Bright, and lively…I could move into that, and there could be a whole new life. And then, because I didn’t want anyone to notice me staring at this house like someone with mental problems, I walked past, but glanced back a couple times to re-experience that flash of feeling.

When I opened my passport for the first time in so many years and looked at my 16-year-old face in all its awkwardness, and the dark stamps on the blue pages, I was again moved. It struck me as an invitation that had arrived at just the right time: to explore this earth, live in this world and be at ease in my skin. Though I may have to update the photo.