Month: August, 2012

You Deal In Beginnings


There is something I realized months ago, but it never seemed worth mentioning until today.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to say, can’t you? If you can’t guess, I’ll tell you anyway, but I just need you to guess.

(Probably that I always end up back where I started and it’s my fault, I guessed.)

That’s not what you write about, I wouldn’t say something so vindictive.

You write about beginnings. You write about the feelings of adoration you get from people and things that come into your life and make you feel good… by knowing how they find you special. Conspicuous by its absence is much discussion of how you want to do for them.

Write a blog for long enough and display it publicly, and people will start to offer you free psychoanalysis. It’s one of those days that unsolicited advice waited around every corner.

A friend emailed this morning to tell me that she hoped I’d find a boyfriend by October, since her wedding is soon and she didn’t want me to feel the pressure of attending alone. She also was hinting that I hadn’t sent my RSVP yet.

While signing up for a gym membership tonight, feeling awkward and insecure while I answered a litany of questions about my assumed sedentary lifestyle, the salesperson insisted I smile more. When I refused, he insisted he could tell that I just wasn’t, “the smiling type.” Anyone who can smile as they sit in an uncomfortable chair discussing their insecurities with a complete stranger is not only the smiling type, but also likely pumped full of lithium.

And tonight, on a 35-minute-and-five-second conversation on my commute home, I said goodbye yet again to someone who has meant quite a lot to me this year, citing irreconcilable emotional differences—he’s in love with me and I just want to be friends.

No goodbye has ever final between us, because he still has hope that we’ll be together. Of course, in true Cee-form, I have no idea if we’ll ever be together, but I like to keep him close as a friend, regardless of the emotional duress that causes for him.

Apparently feelings do not operate on a binary switch for most, which comes as a great surprise to me, though it shouldn’t.

His parting words tonight haven’t been about judgment. I certainly don’t feel harshly judged reading the things that he’s said, holding a mirror in front of my face while he reminds me of themes that occur not only in my writing, but also in my life.

Knowing you the way I do, I always wonder, why you’re this way.

Get in line. As the third person that’s given me emotional advice today, I can say it’s easy to wonder these things. Hell, I wonder these things often, and I still don’t have an acceptable answer.

But let’s not over-react, it’s not as though I’ve got serious problems. After all, I finished my education, as planned. I’m successful in my career. I pay my bills on time, I floss everyday, and I always take the trash out. The closest I’ve got to addiction is a bourbon cocktail every now and again. My desk is organized, my projects are finished on time, and I’m working out more often.

Still, it’s fair to say I live on my toes, crouching to pounce on new opportunities. I’ve spent years focused on instant gratification, on generating happiness in the short-run, while throwing long-term happiness on the bottom of the pile.

And I’ve done it all alone. Sure, there have been men. And friends. And family. There have been dates, there have been beginnings, and there have been moments where I’ve felt that I’ve finally found the things that complete all of the social norm equations. But then it fizzles; my feelings disappear, and I continue on the path of building my life alone, always with short-term goals in mind.

Perhaps the greater question: Am I afraid to commit to people, to things, to jobs, to houseplants because I’m insatiable, or simply because I’ve not found anything worth dedicating myself to?

I assure myself I’m a good person. I care deeply for my family; I’ve had the same best friends for years. Lola gets regular walks and her favorite peanut butter bones every night after dinner. I’ve certainly committed to baseball, to reading, to writing, to favorite beverages, and I’ve even finally chosen favorite toothpaste.

I’m able to commitment, I swear.

Was it the moving all the time?

Sure, that probably has something to do with everything. Survival mechanisms kick in when life is reinvented, sometimes by choice and others by happenstance, and all of your belongings are shoved into boxes and totes and shuffled from state to state. There is inherent longing in frequent changes. It’s easy to want the things you no longer have, but in the same breath it’s even easier to miss the things you’ve never had. If I resign myself to a city, to a man, to a mortgage, to a ritual, what happens when something better presents itself?

When opportunity knocks, I don’t want to say, “Sorry—already committed.” I want to pack my bags for a plane, I want to have a first kiss, and I want as many opportunities to see no-hitters as possible.

Is that wrong?

Who made you feel ugly and unattractive?

Myself, mostly.  Well, strangers too. Bullies in high school. A stranger who once called me fat while I was walking the dog late at night. Glances where I can’t tell if someone’s judging my appearance, leering at spinach in my teeth, or just thinking they really love my sweater.

Hard to say, but easy to assume the negative.

Who or what made you feel so self-protective that you could need love, but not want people?

I lost myself in my longest relationship, and he knows that. He’s well aware of the years I spent in a small town, feeling suffocated by staunch conservative rhetoric and judgment, while placating the wishes of someone who barely loved me. I abandoned my hobbies, my desires, even my family. I gambled on love, threw myself hopelessly to him, sticking around and loving blindly in a manner that is so ridiculous that when I recount our relationship to others they can’t imagine that was ever me. Countless days of loving a partner that was too oblivious, too busy, too critical to love me back. There is such a thing as conditional love: He loved me when I was blonde, when I was thinner, and when I cooked his favorite meals. Wishing and hoping finally disappeared, and I started fighting with him to love me.

When he didn’t, I moved on. As you’re reading this, you’re offering your free psychoanalysis of the day: You’re thinking, “Well, now we’ve figured it all out. She’s scorned on love and terrified of relationships! She’s full of beginnings and no endings because she’s had one terrible ending and is afraid to feel hurt again! Why doesn’t she see what’s so obvious?”

Except, it’s not true. I’m not afraid to fall in love. I fall in love all the time, with people and things and places and moments. I’m not adverse to feeling pain, if it means that I can experience temporary joy. I’ve embarked on numerous relationships that I knew had no feasible end game. It’s never been about pain of losing or loving or giving too much.

You always write about beginnings.

Now you’re not being fair. I don’t write about beginnings, I often write about the ENDING of beginnings: Big difference. It’s easy to write about how things go from fantastic to miserable in short-spans of time. Producers and writers have gotten rich off lesser stories, because that’s just how human nature works—the ending of the beginning is the story, in life, in love, but especially in dating.

Dating follows a script so perfectly and becomes the most exploitable, most obvious way to convey and control emotions—it’s the story everyone knows, and as readers, as writers, and even as curious humans living out the events, we want to know how it ends.

The Beginning

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl; he tells her so. Boy does everything in his power, and sometimes things beyond his power, to let the girl how he feels about her. Girl, if the boy is lucky, reciprocates. Then, there’s a decision.

The Endings

Boy and girl continue to put in the effort. They preserve the precious gift they’ve cultivated. They buy houses, have babies. They see concerts, go to ballgames, travel the world. They buy Christmas presents and bigger cars with their dual incomes. They live together until one dies, or someone falls out of love—either of which could happen at a moment’s notice, reminding us that all relationships are volatile.

Or, that stage is skipped. Boy and girl continue to put in the effort, until one decides that they no longer care to put in the effort. Just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they are made for you. Boy or girl, or maybe both, realize that sometimes it’s easier to re-heat a dinner for one than it is to worry about peanut allergies. Boy or girl, or maybe both, see the value in spending Christmas alone on Michigan Avenue, locking eyes with a curious stranger, looking at the lights while everyone else is with their families.

Boy or girl, in this case girl, want love, just not from those people—and choose to be alone.

But fear and wanderlust are not the only paralytic here: So is compatibility. I have never experienced enough happiness with anyone or anything that making sacrifices didn’t feel like settling. It’s not about anticipation of what could be, but the reality that things could be better from the beginning–why embark on journeys that seem doomed from the start? Why are we expected to make sacrifices and negotiate to create fulfillment, rather than just trying to cultivating it on our own?

Endings are always biter. Endings are terminus. Endings are just awkward moments between beginnings, when good feelings start again. The events in the middle, those are just life. The problem is that plans are flawed. My plans are flawed, and your plans are flawed. And you over there? Your plans are flawed, too. You can’t beat the system–you’re going to fail. You get married, and you’re miserable, so you get divorced. You find the love of your life and they die unexpectedly. You stay single and that’s judged, too. It’s melodramatic to say that we all end up alone, but there’s pretty sharp evidence to suggest that’s true–it’s just a matter of where you fall off the continuum. Eventually momentum is lost somewhere between good, bad, and numb.

There’s a baseball analogy about how you live your life. You don’t have any middle-relievers. You never GO to your middle relievers. Not to mention your closer, I haven’t even gotten to your closer yet, but you’re living everything in the first few innings, on repeat.

Why can’t you trust the middle relievers?

He’s probably not wrong. I’ve never felt the need to use the middle relievers, because my starters usually give up ten walks in the first three innings and I’ve gone straight to bringing in Nick Green to throw a few innings. I have good intentions; I have an arsenal of arms ready to throw should there be a leverage situation, but life is full of under performance and rain delays.  The question I can’t answer to anyone is if that’s such a bad thing. Does life have to follow convention, or is it acceptable to build as you go, living life on-demand, and hoping that eventually the cards remain standing on a rather fragile house of cards that rests on a tight rope above a shark tank? It will always remain acceptable for strangers, for lovers, for gym salespeople to give their two-cents on how the lives of others are structured. It’s about gaining the strength and conviction to realize the flaws in our own plans and adjust accordingly: Sometimes the judgment can eye-opening.

An Experiment in Bias

Since you’ve opened this, you’ve volunteered for an experiment.

Please, read Excerpt A:

Dear Momma and Daddy,

‘I hope I didn’t seem too sad when you left that day. Watching you all drive off made me realize” — she starts to write, what a long journey I have set out upon, but the pretty-writing alarm sounds again, and she damps it down to ”how much I was going to miss you. But since then I have been so busy studying, meeting new people, and” — she grandly thinks of figuring out Dupont’s tribal idiosyncrasies, already knowing she’s going to settle for ”getting used to new ways of doing things, I haven’t had time to be homesick, although I guess I am.

‘The classes haven’t been as hard as I was afraid they would be. In fact, my French professor told me I was ‘overqualified’ for his class! Since he had a peculiar way of teaching French literature, in my opinion, I wasn’t unhappy about switching to one a little more advanced. I have a feeling that it is harder to get into a university like this than it is to stay in it. I suppose I shouldn’t even think like that, however” — she starts to write lest I have a rude awakening, — and what is lest supposed to mean in Alleghany County? — then downscales it to ”because it might be bad luck….

Love, Charlotte

 Now, excerpt B:

Dear Mother and Dad,

I’m in Rome looking for an apartment, though I haven’t found exactly what I want yet. Apartments here are either too big or too small, and if too big you have to shut off every room but one in the winter in order to heat it properly anyway. I’m trying to get a medium-sized, medium-priced place that I can heat completely without spending a fortune for it.

Sorry I’ve been so bad about letters lately. I hope to do better with the quieter life I’m leading here. I felt I needed a change from Mongibello—as you’ve  both been saying for a long time—so I’ve moved bag and baggage and may even sell the house and boat….

With Love, Dickie

These are passages are excerpted from popular novels. Aside from the obvious differences in content and writing style, take a moment to think about all the ways these two passages are different.

Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers