Addiction, Bringing Yourself, Distance, essays, Men, Photography, Relationships, Sex, Teaching, Writing

Giving a Shit, And Other Things That Hurt

IMG_3581.JPGThe Eftilou guesthouse where we’re staying is surrounded by hordes of semi-feral cats, needy and squalling, their ears shredded, their tails bobbed, some of their eyes missing. Battle cats: they fight and fuck late into the night in the jasmine-scented darkness. It seems like it’s always quiet in Greece until the cats or the church bells raise a sudden commotion, or some men from the local village start shooting shotguns at an effigy of Judas Iscariot tied to a pine tree. It’s Greek Orthodox Easter, and my friend and I are looked after by an old Greek woman whom I want to jam into my suitcase so she will come back to New York with me and be my new grandmother. She bakes me cookies. She picks me some strawberries.   She enthusiastically wishes me good morning in her thick accent. I love her.

But mostly the first thing I want to do when I get back to the guesthouse is get on the wifi so that I can text Connecticut. It’s a jones, low-level but persistent and distracting, like wanting a cigarette or something with sugar in it. Back in New York it is lunchtime; he’ll be sitting out in Union Square Park, and I can usually talk him into taking a selfie to show me what color tie he is wearing. I don’t particularly care what tie he is wearing, but I love that there is a person who will photograph themselves at my demand, for my personal pleasure.

But the wifi is out in Eftilou; there was a storm earlier this week that chucked rocks up onto the esplanade and swallowed deck chairs whole. It was a day to be relieved that the Coast Guard is turning back the Syrian refugees that are trying to cross the Mediterranean out of nearby Turkey; they wouldn’t have survived the five-mile crossing today. I, meanwhile, am a person whose worst problem is that she does not have wifi, and I am losing my shit. Because I can not text Connecticut, and if I can not text him, I worry that maybe his attention will shift to something or someone else. After all, that is my modus operandi: code name Out Of Sight, Out of Mind.

And now I care, and it is hard, caring. I still remember the way he side-eyed me back in December when I told him, I find you riveting. I’m pretty sure the only way I was able to get this close to him was by being all casual and ambiguous, still ducking out to go crawl under my ex. I got close to him the way you get close to a shy cat: a careful display of disinterest. I think of the battle cats outside, who wind around your ankles, hoping for scraps; the second you make eye contact and extend your arms, they bolt.

And now I catch myself pursuing Connecticut with my arms outstretched, texting him that I want one of his old t-shirts to sleep in because I miss his smell, my stomach lurching when I see his name, wildly swinging my phone around in circles trying to catch a bar. A throbbing cliché. Next I will start drawing hearts in a notebook and checking out his horoscope in the newspaper.   It’s terrible. He has a hundred and ten percent of my attention and I’m worried I’m going to freak him out, because my full attention is scary, and what if he only likes me elusive and disinterested?

So maybe it’s good that there’s no wifi. It might save me from myself.  For all he knows, I’m down on the beach with some Greek fishermen, running my fingers through their beards. This is a country where, to appropriate a line from Bill Bryson, the hottest man you’ve ever seen is blocked from your view by the next hottest man you’ve ever seen. I walk around smiling at people I could easily fall in love with for a week or two, fists balled under my chin. I flirt, but halfheartedly.

All my attention is directed on Connecticut, sunlight intensified through the magnifying glass that is my addict brain. I wonder if he’s puzzled by the change. I’ve been gently nudging him away for weeks, only making plans with him at the last minute, trying to schedule him around Sketch, replying to his lengthy texts with a single, distracted emoji, getting naked with him in the afternoon on days when I know I have something to do in the evening. And then one day I just wake up in Greece and find myself wanting to be this man’s girl, and it’s fucked up. I’ve already told him that I don’t want to be his girlfriend, that I think monogamy is for suckers, that I am not a relationship person.   And this is why you should never make sweeping pronouncements about yourself; you will only need to walk them back later.

How do people handle it? All the feelings? It’s like some rock over my soul just got kicked over, and this is what is underneath. It’s gross, and scary.

There is a smoking hot yoga teacher I know who invited me to go to some sort of girl-on-girl party in Brooklyn. That is what I am supposed to be doing with my life, not this thing where I feel so needy, where I want constant reassurance, where I need to see what color tie the man is wearing just to breathe normally again.

But alas, my phone has no wifi. Also, a few days ago, my phone’s iMessage shit the bed, and now I can’t hear from anybody unless they get me through Facebook or What’sApp (the worst application name ever, by the way. I can’t say it without wanting to punch my own self in the face). So also Sketch doesn’t know what happened to me. For all he knows, the cats got me.

I can’t even begin to think about having the conversation with him about Connecticut, and how this changes things. Every time I try to bring up the subject with my brain, all my thoughts dart away into some bushes, startled and wild. I can’t shake the conviction that this is really it, this time. I’m not going to frame this departure as a date-stamped break, or claim I’m just going to see what it’s like to date other people. I love someone else, and I need to put him first now.

It is a phyllo dough comprised of flaky layers of guilt, oozing with grief and dried lust-fruits. That is exactly the Greek pastry that my relationship to my ex now is.   Something you would feed to the stray cats to get them to leave you alone.

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It’s not Greek Orthodox Easter without this horror show.

I’ve reached my last day in Greece; I’m typing this from the tiny balcony of a cut-rate hotel. Greek Orthodox church bells woke me up at seven, and I came out here to write for a bit, looking up at the Acropolis. You can see it from everywhere around here, it seems like.

Ten days without sex and I feel a little more leveled out. I dreamed about bondage last night and woke up unsure of who had me tied up, Connecticut or Sketch.   Maybe neither. Maybe it’s a symbol or something.

I didn’t do much here. My friend and I came to volunteer with the refugee crisis, but we spent most of our days aimlessly looking for people to tell us what to do in various overstaffed storage warehouses. We folded and labeled clothing donations from boxes where it had already been folded and labeled.  FullSizeRender-22.jpgWe went to the beach up by the lighthouse and climbed down with the environmental crew to help cut apart rubber dinghies caught on the rocks, allowing me to live out my lifelong fantasy of wearing a knife and work-gloves with a bikini, but the work could have been done in minutes with proper equipment.   Everyone here is just kind of waiting for the borders to reopen, and I feel embarrassed when my friend posts humble-brag photos on Facebook. We are tourists here, trying to blend in with the real humanitarians that have been in the camps for months.

We loiter around the gates at Kera Tepe, the refugee camp outside of Mitilini, still hoping to Do Something Good. There’s a power strip at our picnic table, so when a couple of Yazidi men come out to charge their phones and electric shavers, they have no choice but to talk to us.   That’s how we end up having English class with their children and their wives, twenty-five Yazidi in the adjacent olive grove. What words do you teach someone who has no English? (They do know the ABCs, however, everyone including the men singing the song right up to the next time won’t you sing with me part in a heavily Kurdish-accented English) Cherry-picking vocabulary to pass along, I go with members of the family, things that you wear, the names of the things on your face. They take careful notes, double-checking the letters, and teach me Kurdish for the same, but I forget it immediately. I would make a terrible refugee. I am a bad swimmer and my brain is like a fossil in a can.

What these people have been through, are going through, will go through as they petition for asylum in one of the few countries willing to take them, is a bigger and more important topic than I am willing to ham-fistedly tackle in my silly sex blog. But I can tell you that the only time I stopped thinking about Sketch and Connecticut and the whole mess was when a five-year-old refugee girl slipped up next to me as we walked back to camp, and put her tiny hand in my hand. She didn’t ask. She just trusted that I would take care of her. And the only time I stopped thinking about whether I really love Connecticut, and whether I should tell him, and whether I am capable of actually loving anyone because I only think about myself all of the fucking time, is when a Yazidi boy the age of my students at home, gorgeous with his hazel eyes and thick eyelashes, stopped me by our rental car to practice his new vocabulary: I love you.   I lost it for a moment, my throat almost too tight to return the English. I love you too. I mean it. In the moment I mean it.  For now, it’s the best I can do.

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Come to Lesvos!  They supported the refugees and now they need support; tourism is down 85% here.  Also, there are no annoying tourists around being all annoying.  So it’s win-win.

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Addiction, Art, Blogging, dating, essays, Movies, Photography, Sex, Writing, yoga

Inanimate Objects

restraintwithpenSo this weekend Sketch draws me for the first time.   Never in one spot long enough for him to block me in on paper, my attention caught on all the things outside the margins, I finally remember this remarkable party-trick I’m calling sitting still and doing nothing. That’s when he takes out the pencil. Sketch is half hidden behind a battered easel, dressed in his day uniform of black workpants and combat boots, wearing a hat to cut the glare. I am wearing nothing, perched on the edge of a stool with one foot tucked up on a rung and one leg stretched out of the carpet, sucking in my stomach, wondering if the cast shadows from the studio light make me look older.

I’ve seen him draw a thousand times, but never from this angle, where I’m the thing he is looking at. He measures, one eye squeezed shut. Looks down, marks something out in vine charcoal. He looks up again, squinting to catch the values in the stack of shapes that is my body, and then back to the paper. My body is faxed one shape at a time across the room. And I’m watching him back. It’s a weird, center-of-attention experience that is both concentrated and utterly abstracted, and when Sketch makes appreciative noises, I’m not sure if he is approving of  the lighting, or me, or the drawing, or something else entirely. In the studio his dying cat cries, wanting something but not knowing what. It’s hiding, a noisy lump under a blanket.

Things between Sketch and I have been particularly good since the blizzard locked us up together for a weekend, and all of New York finally caught up on its sleep. Now I’m back IMG_3109in that place where I feel restless until I see him, missing him, texting him random pictures of blobfish or the songs that get stuck in my head in the middle of the day, but when I do finally see him, I think about heading home. I want to get out of here before I fuck things up again. The whole thing feels like an open window, a banana peel, an accident waiting to happen.

It scares the shit out of me, and looking for a distraction I make plans on Sunday to go see that horror film The Boy with some friends. I invite Connecticut along, still trying to determine if I am capable of having a friend who is straight and male and single. He’s chubbily adorable, and I try to shake off wondering what it would feel like to make out with him against the side of a building, his hands down my pants.   I like you as a friend, boys used to say in grammar school when they wanted to blow you off. But I genuinely like Connecticut as a friend, one who is vivid enough that I can almost make him out through the thick murky dimness of my own self-centeredness. I sit next to him in the movie theater, and when scary things pop out, I lean appreciatively toward him, our shoulders touching. In the film, people are talking to a doll like it is real. I understand, because I am broken and other people can feel like dolls, animated by my interactions with them, lapsing into plastic once I walk away.   Some of my most successful relationships were the ones I had with my stuffed animals as a kid; actual human interactions are wildly confusing.

Connecticut is my friend, but I can’t stop trying to assess if he wants me or not. I can’t stop caring if he wants me or not.   I’m taking him to a hot yin class after the movie at my yoga studio, an opportunity to parade half naked in front of him to try to find out.   “So that’s why you’re wearing make-up to yoga,” my yogini friend Veronica says knowingly.  Connecticut gives nothing away as I strip down. Poker face.

Three mats over in the yoga studio, which is bedecked with budhhas and smells like a boxing ring, all feet and effort, I spot that girl who stopped wanting to be my friend last September. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since she broke off contact with me, ending our friendship with a vague text. I still don’t know why we’re not friends anymore.  Sometimes I wonder if she caught a whiff of lust off of me, but it really wasn’t like that; she was just my perfectly imperfect friend that I liked to meet for tacos. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since the breakup and I’m not sure what the protocol here is, but I can’t not say hello. I give her a hug and do that back-patting thing, which I never do; I find it weird and confusing. I’m hugging you but I’m hitting you.

Connecticut is of course friends with this girl because our social circles are weirdly cramped, considering we live in a borough with over two million other people in it. After yoga class, which is front-loaded with lengthy hip-openers that make me feel both like crying and like fucking everyone in sight, I wave goodbye to the two of them, enmeshed in conversation, and beat an undignified retreat, dropping things in my haste to get the fuck out of there.

There will be no making out against the side of a building today, and there will be no trying to explain Sketch to Connecticut, luckily; afterall, I can’t even explain it to myself. Sometimes it feels like some karmic consequence. Maybe I’m doomed to go on loving, wanting, fiending for this person, making the same mistakes and then: taillights. Maybe this is why Sketch has never drawn me before; we’re both too worried about getting it wrong.   That’s why pencils have erasers, is a thing that teachers say. I am always explaining to my students that we learn more from our mistakes, our failures, than we do from the easy and early successes. Not a lesson I have personally taken to heart, but it is still a thing I say. Around the right angles of his easel, Sketch looks at me, drawing, and I look back around my laptop, typing, and I wonder if we’ll get each other right eventually.

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Addiction, Attention Seeking, Blogging, Breakups, Confessions, dating, essays, Photography, Writing

People From Connecticut Didn’t Like Her

FullSizeRender-10I know this perfectly adorable couple. Their vacation pictures on Facebook look like an advertisement for Love, or possibly teeth whiteners.  In the Florida sunshine, her elfin face peeps over his shoulder, his lips pressed against her, the ocean vast behind them. Of all the fish in the sea, of which there are reportedly many, they have found one another and they radiate benevolent delight. It’s a Relationship, and from where I’m sitting, it looks enticing.

Of course, who knows what is actually happening when they are at home and no one can see them. Maybe they argue, pelting one another with garbage.

There should be a word for the vague sense of embarrassment I feel after going out for the night for other humans, clumsily attempting to connect with other people the way everyone else seems to be doing on Facebook. I go to see this guy’s band play, this guy I like. I must like him, because for the last week I have been curiously closed-mouthed about the whole thing; I am disinclined to even assign him a pseudonym for the blog.  Feels jinxy.

I want to see him all week, on high-alert for his texts, but on the train, en route to hang out with him in person, all I want to do is turn around and go back home. I just washed three weeks worth of yoga clothes and there is now an enormous bag of clean laundry in the hallway and that is a very comfortable place to sit. Also, I found a Raymond Carver book in the garbage. All I want is to stay home on my laundry throne and read my garbage-book. Simple pleasures.

Instead, I am forcing myself to try to reach across the fathomless distances that exist between me and other people, but it’s hard to sink hooks into him. This is a person who has solved the New York Times crossword puzzle for the last 23 days in a row. He is too smart for me.

All week I have been explaining to him about things like how I just want to stay home burrowed in laundry and how I can’t help mortifying myself at every turn when I walk out my front door.  My friend Court asks me to send her a picture of him and I text back: his awesomeness doesn’t translate in photos—kind of chubby and bearded. I am then 90% sure I texted this message to the guy by accident, and want to throw my phone and myself into traffic. I think of Sketch’s imaginary epitaph for his tombstone: Well that was long and mortifying. I have begun proposing my own epitaph: People from Connecticut didn’t like her. You know the people I’m talking about. Normal people, the ones who aren’t dying of embarrassment every second.

This guy, this guy that I am so drawn to, his family is from New Haven. He is a person from Connecticut. And yet I try. At the bar, I lean into his shoulder when I talk to him, my hand on his arm. He has a Kierkegaard allusion tattooed there. And still, he doesn’t touch me back. My entire spine is a run of flop-sweat.

“What did you want to happen?” Court will ask me later.

I wanted something. A moment. I wanted to feel that moment where someone looks at you and actually sees you, pronounces your real name, and is there with you, and likes you, even if they are from Connecticut and people from Connecticut don’t like you.

It doesn’t come out that way.  There is no moment, even though I am so nervous that my stomach lurches into full rebellion; it normally only gets that bad when sex is imminent, and nothing like that is going down. All that happens is I drink a watery iced tea with some of his friends, and I watch his band play their entire set, and I get a ride home in a crowded car where I have a conversation with the back of his head. As we flee Manhattan over the 59th Street bridge, this guy I like is telling us about his dentist. She is apparently stupendously hot.  Now, granted, I once fucked my dentist, but that is not the sort of detail you share when you’re into somebody, and I arrive at the depressing realization that while this guy might enjoy being under the heated lamps of my lusty gaze, he just isn’t into me.

I’m left feeling the way you do when you’re waiting and waiting and waiting and w-a-i-t-i-n-g for your coke dealer and finally he calls to say that he isn’t coming, and you’re not getting high tonight after all. It’s a particular type of disappointment, one where you know you are better off, and it’s still no consolation.

And outside it is cold and gray and blank in New York as we count down towards midnight and the New Year, and Court reminds me that just yesterday I had said I would be fine with just being friends with the smart man from Connecticut. That is in fact a thing that I said; there will be a couple of days of feeling disappointed and then I will lose interest, my addict brain casting about for a better fix. I’ll be vaguely pleased to see him in social situations—we have a handful of mutual friends.

And anyway, what about Sketch? You already have someone, Court points out, like that ever filled a void.

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This fucking dog is looking right into my soul.

The next day I text the man a picture of somebody’s gorgeous blond dachshund in a Starbucks because we recently had a whole conversation about my contempt for short-legged dogs. I love a good sweeping pronouncement; it’s just that I tend to make them prematurely. I don’t ever like short-legged dogs, I declare. Except for that one.

One of my favorite sweeping pronouncements about myself is that I am good with handling rejection; my brain very helpfully begins pointing out flaws and drawbacks the moment it senses someone not liking me back. And thus my brain now protectively reminds me: who knows how it would have turned out? Maybe in six months, I would have been blogging about the rotten sex, and missing Sketch. Most likely, he would have hated the idea of this blog. He would have made me miserable, probably.

Besides, as I have pronounced sweepingly: I am not a relationship person.   Or at least I won’t be, until I am.

And so instead Sketch and I go up to Boston to see the Vermeer/Rembrandt show at the MFA before it wraps, and we take selfies in front of grimacing sculpture, pulling matching horrible faces.   After a week of worrying about another man, I slide comfortably back into my spot under Sketch’s arm. We are not the most adorable couple, and I do not put the pictures up on Facebook, but it is plenty.   Once I accidentally call him my boyfriend, and he does not correct me, and we come back to 2016 New York with new inside jokes.

 

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Addiction, Awkward Moments, Blogging, Books, Consequences of Blogging, dating, Photography, Treating Men Badly, Voice, Writing

The Care and Feeding of an Ex

images-63It’s all Mary Karr’s fault. In The Art of Memoir, she writes about sharing your work with the people who might want the opportunity to dispute its veracity, and in the spirit of Truth, I message Bunny last week and explain this project to him and ask if he wants to see the bit about him or express anything.

OK, maybe it’s not all in the spirit of Truth. He got out of the fire of that breakup so clean that even fifteen years later I still want to hand him the charred photo album and say, Look. Look how damaged it is.

I don’t hear from him all week, and then he sends me a text reading I’d rather not be involved at this point. We knew each other so long ago.

I can tolerate a wide range of bad behaviors from men: tease me, hit me, infect me, and I will find forgiveness for you. But ignore me? Ignore me and I will fucking kill you.

The rage is instant and astonishing, a bank of heat like opening a furnace door, the kind of anger that blows back your hair and makes you feel like crying.   I am angrier than I was when he suddenly moved away with no explanation, taking with him a bunch of my hopes and my signed copy of Civilwarland in Bad Decline in which George Saunders complimented my sweater. I am angrier than I was a year ago, when for one weird week he would call me at four in the morning because his new girlfriend had broken up with him. More fool me, I would answer the phone, make comforting noises. Once he felt better, he ignored my solicitous texts. How are you, bun? Are you OK? I was pretending I was checking on him, but actually I was showing him how much of a better person I was than him. Irritatingly, he didn’t take the bait.

I guess I don’t really blame him for not wanting to read about all this. Look at this charred photo album of the two of us. Remember how you left all those candles burning? But he has dismissed me, like I’m trying to sell him some bibles (I’m not interested, Tippy), and now my ears are ringing with anger-induced tinnitus as I try to message him back. I want to remind him of things. I have things I want to say. But I can not write him back, because apparently he has defriended me, and so a carefully composed retort along the eloquent and mature lines of Oh yeah, fatty fat fat fat? slips right between social media’s couch cushions.

The moral of this story is, when people tell you who they are, believe them. He’s been telling me for years that he is not available to review the past, and still I have persisted. How about now? How about now? Acceptance is always the latecomer to the party. Sighing in the face of the inevitable, knowing I won’t talk to him again, I dig out his email address. Parting words should always be simple and not labored over, so I type three little words to him while I walk to the train: Die in fire. And hit send with a wistful sigh.

I have been laboring for years under the pleasant fiction that I am friends with my ex-boyfriends. It’s a thing I tell people, especially new boyfriends, that is not even close to true. My ex-boyfriends: two of them are dead, three of them are crazy and in the wind, and then there’s Sketch, who is not my ex so much as he is, to cop from Richard Burton talking about Elizabeth Taylor, “my eternal one-night stand.

There is just one ex I am legitimately friends with.   I saw him and his wife and kids this weekend; his other ex-girlfriend was there, willowy and beautiful and aging in that refined way I can not seem to master.  His wife is amazing and sends me off from the party with packed food; I feel like a bit of an orphan, albeit a well-cared for one, every time I come here. He asks me about the necklace I am wearing, a brass shovel with my initials in it, and when I explain that it’s a sort of totem for this blog I write, he immediately pulls it up on his computer to look at it.  I watch him for a moment, a face I once was in love with illuminated by words and words and words about other people I have loved. Loved, and sometimes hated. The anger is so misdirected and diffuse, like a fire hose with pinprick holes in it, the pressure diverted in a thousand trivial directions. This ex I am friends with, he looks at the screen for a moment. Cool. And he x’s it out, closing the browser and we, at least, are good.

 

 

 

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dating, Notdating, Photography, Travel, Writing

Skinny: A Love Story

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Much like me, it only looks wasted and barren

Sketch’s cat is dying.  It’s down to a couple of pounds and it feels like a sock filled with radio dials, all claws and bones and bulging eyes.  “He’s OK,” Sketch insists.  He loves this cat, carries it purring around his studio.  It likes to be hoisted by its scruff, limp as a chamois cloth, all its toes spread wide and its black fur sticking out at odd angles.   You wouldn’t think anyone could love something so ugly; it gives me hope.

“Maybe you should take him to the vet.  He’s too skinny.”

“No, he’s OK.”  He gathers the cat protectively into his body, where it blinks at me, probably 90% tumor.  “I don’t want to think about what I would do without this guy.”

This is not my cat, but it has kept me separated from a solid night of sleep for the last thirteen years so I’m not uninvested.   When I first met Sketch, his cats were kittens, one black, one white, both determined to make sure the other never got to eat from the bowl.  The black cat ate a bunch of thread once, when I left a spool on the coffee table, and it needed six hours of surgery to remove it and I think it still holds it against me.  They call them string cats, which sounds like a children’s toy or a physics theory; Sketch’s cat is a survivor.

We are not, it seems, going to own up to everything that is true here.  It’s OK.  Sketch loves me, the way he loves this dying cat.  He likes to carry me around too.   We have a bunch of the kind of sex we both like and I sleep right at the edge of the mattress, encouraging the cat to go sleep on Sketch’s side of the bed because it keeps waking me up, pacing the margins of my pillow like a prison guard.  I dream that Sketch and I are flying to Australia, and I wake up feeling argumentative and dissatisfied; even asleep I have to admit to myself that as much as I love him, I prefer to travel by myself, to get to be in entirely in charge of the agenda and to make my mistakes in private.  If I want to join a wallaby gang, I will join a wallaby gang (I think their initiation rites involve a lot of hugging).images-61

So here it is: I am a sex and love addict who also needs to be free and alone.  The happiest times of my life, when I have felt most perfectly myself, have been when I’m off exploring on my own, or when I’m sitting at my computer at six in the morning, before anyone is up.  I like to be alone.  I don’t know why this is hitting me with the force of revelation this week, but it is hugely comforting to just admit out loud that I’m single because I want to be.

Or maybe it’s because I finally printed out a copy of my book; seeing it unspool from the printer unpacks something in me, looking with my fists balled under my chin at this thing that I made.  It makes me laugh: the manuscript is as thick as a phone book, one where you can find the numbers and advertisements for all the people I have loved and the hostages I have taken. Its bulk reminds me of being at Columbia and how my graduate thesis was twenty times longer than anyone else’s, and how humiliating that was, but how it was too late to do anything about it but drop it on the pile like a bomb in a backpack and walk off quickly with my head down.

I message Michael Cunningham, once my thesis advisor, on Facebook, to apologize for being so lame all those years ago.  He assures me that no time was wasted. I want to paste that up on the book jacket. No time was wasted.

I haven’t wasted my time.  I’ve spent it, exactly the way I needed to, exactly as I was always meant to.   I was always meant to wind up here, sitting naked in Sketch’s rocking chair with his computer, with him but still contentedly alone, working, listening to him snore softly.  Nothing distracts me.   I will have to show him the book soon, and I wonder if it will be like revealing that I have a tail or am secretly Portugese.  Will he read what I have written and wonder: how could I have gone all this time and not known these things about her?

There is a scrawny cat, pawing at my ankle the way you would tap someone on the shoulder, looking for attention, hungry. I run my hand along its vertebrae. What do I know? Maybe Sketch’s cat is not dying, or at least maybe it isn’t dying soon. Maybe it is just supposed to be skinny.

 

 

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Live Blogging, Performance Anxiety, Photography, Puppies, Writing

Seven Minutes

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This is what nightmares are made of.

I’m reading at a live writing event on Thursday that has a make-something-up-on-the-motherfucking-spot component based on audience prompts, and all week I think about ways to cheat at it. I imagine possible co-conspirators I could call on, people way funnier and smarter than me. I consider the power of Google to tell me what to put down. I try to wheedle potential topics out of the event’s beautiful coordinator (Bunny dicks was a topic last time, she tells me, and I’m bummed I missed out on that one; bunnies are total dicks). I go to my friend Amanda’s improv class at UCB, trying to figure it out. How do you think under pressure, while people are looking at you?  What happens if you can’t think of anything?  What happens if you go blank and forget English?  That happens sometimes, you know.

The rules: you pick a topic out of a bag and then you have seven minutes to write something in the basement, and then come back upstairs and read it to everyone. Seven minutes. More than enough of a headstart; I could be halfway home before anyone even knew I was gone.   Seven fucking minutes.   It’s the exact length of time you get to be in heaven, closeted with some boy at a party in the sixth grade, only this is even scarier than that.

Here’s the topic I pull out:

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The contributor drew pictures on the bottom, shadowy and frightening terrier pictures that are not as innocent as they seem.

These dogs are mocking me.

There is something sort of innately horrifying about the way that dogs give birth. I’m not saying it’s the reason why I’m so stubbornly child-free, but once you’ve seen a dog give birth to what looks like a pile of baked potatoes, if baked potatoes were made out of cranberry sauce, you can’t unsee it.

Our dog was named Muffin (an unfortunate name; you’re supposed to be able to make your porn name out of the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on, but no one could possibly make Muffin sound sexy); she was a springer spaniel whose hobbies included ripping down the curtains from the bay window in a barking fury directed at the UPS truck, peeing in places and then laying in it, and getting knocked up by, as my mother put it, “the dog that jumped the fence.”

She extruded a bunch of puppies in our basement on an old towel one rainy Sunday morning, looking deeply unimpressed with them. Most of the puppies were alive, but one was still and dead, and when I found it in the trashcan later, it gave me nightmares for months.  After that, the live puppies pursued Muffin like a yipping cloud of flies until we could find people to take them away. Those puppies snapped at her distended dog nipples with their sharp little teeth, growling, hungry, scary.

Sometimes I think writing is like these puppies. I have the blog, and it needs feeding. And sometimes I don’t feel like writing. Sometimes it hurts, like birth on a cold floor.   Sometimes the things come out cold and stillborn. I only have seven minutes, and I am writing this as fast as I can in the basement of some bar, peeing a little every time the ice machine unleashes a startlingly loud cache of ice.

But there is no cheating. You have enough time, I’ve been telling myself. Things take exactly as long as you give them. Even seven minutes can be enough. I hope the things I create won’t bite me too horribly, that someone will think they are worth loving.

This post was totally written in seven minutes, although I did proofread it at home after, removing the little stream of expletives and barks of terror from in between the setence-y bits.  A good lesson: it’s just not that serious.  

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Death, Experiments, Photography, Punching One's Clown, Writing

How to Dispose of a Body

imgres-8My ex-boyfriend Sketch and I have challenged one another to see how long we can go without getting ourselves off. We just want to see what happens, if all the focus will go rushing to other parts of our brains and we will suddenly be able to recall all the things we learned about ancient history, or spontaneously discover how to untangle thorny dilemmas from more recent times, like closing the Medicaid gap or figuring out why we can’t let go of one another.

It has not been easy, rejecting my own advances. I love everything about masturbation, except of course the word itself. Masturbation. The word has a grainy 1950s public service announcement quality; you can practically hear that narrator who did the voiceovers for all the sex-ed films saying it and sounding like your father. Masturbation. The available euphemisms for men jerking off are hilariously telling (paint the ceiling, punch one’s clown, and rough up the suspect are my favorites), but I have yet to find one worth adopting for women. I am not petting a kitty, buttering a muffin, or double-clicking a mouse. No. I’m not doing these things. Maybe the expression that comes closest is to rub one out, which makes it sound like there will be a gangland slaying for which my clitoris will take the rap, but at least it’s not anatomically misleading the way flicking the bean is.

Anyway, it’s an experiment. Sketch often proposes experiments like these, where you find out what happens if you remove something like eating or sleeping from your daily routine.   The end goal is just to feel something different. Does self-abuse alter brain chemistry? Maybe. Professional fighters aren’t supposed to get off before a match; the belief is that abstinence makes them more competitive. But do I really need to be more competitive? Already this week I fell down the stairs racing a colleague to be the first to the copy machine.   I don’t know that my competitive drive is a part of my personality that I need to enhance, but I am determined that it will be Sketch and not I to first succumb to temptation. Because it is totally a competition.

Sketch and I share a love for the polarized extremes of excess and asceticism; we are all toggles and no dimmer switches.   And it was indeed a weekend of excess that we just shared, nothing too filthy to be growled into one another’s ears. After that kind of sex, it would be powerfully anticlimactic to come home to a little ménage a moi.

But when I can’t have something, I want it doubly. Nothing makes me want a Twix bar like watching a documentary about the evils of sugar. Tell me not to think of pink elephants and their penises, and suddenly that is all I can think about. My beleaguered addict brain doesn’t do well with forbidden.

Besides, I am something of a chronic self-abuser.  From the time I was little, once I figured out how it all worked, I was my own favorite toy, constantly played with and a little broken. I was pretty sure no one else was into it, even after the amazing health teacher I had in eighth grade laid down the revelation that EVERYONE masturbates. Everyone.   This is pretty much the only thing I remember learning in middle school (ancient history still unavailable as of press time), and I appreciated the nod towards normalcy, but I still prefer to think that some people put themselves to sleep with warm milk and a dull book because ew.  Everyone?

The thing is, if Sketch and I are not getting ourselves off, then we are only getting off with other people, and I don’t think he is OK with just getting off once a week. (Well, Saturday was more than once. Orgasms lined up like Rockettes. But still.) Many things are good once a week: getting a manicure, vacuuming your apartment, calling your mother. (I believe I saw all of these listed as synonyms for female masturbation, and they say disturbing things about my gender). Orgasms once a week? Not good enough.

And this of course is the crux of the issue. Sketch and I want to murder one another if we are together with greater frequency, but I need more skin-on-skin contact, more attention, more sex than this.

We are supposedly seeing other people, but I just can’t summon the requisite energy.  I’ve been asking everyone what I should do (which is probably why no one at Starbucks wants to wait on me anymore) but no one is giving me the answer I want. Still, if you ask people what you should do about your crazy relationship, they will probably tell you. “If you meet a right guy while you’re still taking oxytocin baths with the wrong guy, you’ll miss the opportunity,” one friend levels quite reasonably.   I know he is right, but now all I can think about is oxytocin baths: I’m picturing one of those spas where you lamp out in bubbling mud, drinking themed cocktails. I’m enjoying a codependent colada; I’ve got a rub-down scheduled for after.

Through the warm glow of oxytocin, I can’t help feeling abashed. Social shaming: it may eventually work where honest self-reflection has failed. Because time is passing and I am getting tired of talking about this, but I can’t not write about what is going on.

It’s getting darker earlier, leaving me feeling like I am perpetually running out of time. This month marks a year of getting up every morning at 5:30 to write before work in my dark apartment, even though I sometimes feel like it is stupid and will never amount to anything. The act of writing a book is like walking into a forest and somehow believing you will manage to come out on the other side even as it get darker and you get more lost. That the words are not, as you sometimes believe, gibberish that to other people will sound like the words one finds on a dropped piece of paper, one that looks like a grocery list but none of the items on it are food, or real.

Maybe an irregular supply of orgasms is making me morbid; too few little deaths to distract me from the big one. I talk to Sketch about it. He is telling me about how the Chinese have a taboo against skeletons, so certain video games tend to censor them out.   The graphics offer a tombstone in place of a body.

I love tombstones, have since I was little. I’d like my grave to have some sort of a bench built into it, so maybe horny teenagers will come into the cemetery and make out on top of me. I ask Sketch what kind of a tombstone he wants; he uses his hands to frame his epitaph in the air, Well that was long and mortifying.

The man is so easily embarrassed.   I wonder what that feels like, to carry around such a sense of social occasion.   I don’t have it. I’m doing a reading this week, and I’m going to talk about masturbating, and it’s fine. I don’t have a body, I am a body, doing body things and bodying around town, and I sort of hope it is long and I hope it is mortifying because at least I will have taken a chance, and been rewarded with the blood moving somewhere, even if it’s only to my face.

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