Tag Archives: Writing

Holding Onto What Was Good

You know how it is.

One minute, I feel strong and invincible and sexy: ready to join with Pippa Middleton in effortlessly conquering the male hearts of the world.

The next, I feel small and unwanted and vulnerable: rejected by the handsome, married passenger the row ahead of me on the airplane who I’m pretty sure never saw my face; rejected by the butch bikram yoga teacher who seems concerned with everyone’s alignment but mine.

I’m trying to focus on those former moments–the strong and heady ones–and less than a week post-breakup, there are more and more coming. But still, not quite enough.

So I’m trying to hold onto something S told me, one of the most important things I’ve heard in the last few days.

“You’ve gained so much in this relationship,” she said. “I don’t want to see you lose all that just because it’s over.”

She was referring to a few things–my ability to talk more openly with my mother, for example, and my sharpened focus on certain writing projects–but mostly she was talking about my confidence.

“You’ve just seemed so secure,” she told me. “When you were with him and when you were alone. Please don’t let go of that.”

I’m working on it. It turns out that holding onto the products of a relationship isn’t easy, though, once it’s over.

The small things can feel like the hardest.

Hours after the breakup, I wrote an email to D asking for my things back–dutifully heeding my friend M’s advice to do so “without saying anything about feelings.” The next day, he overnighted them.

Before I got the package, I anticipated how hard it would be–the steep emotional challenge of separating those items I’d kept at his house–a nightgown to sleep in and a sweater, because it was always cold–from the association of him, and from the association of hurt.

But I didn’t cry when I opened it. Instead, I put both things on. (The sweater over the nightgown–as N noted, they happen to pair well together.)

“I have to reclaim these clothes,” I announced to S and N as we stood, solemn-faced, at our kitchen counter.

And of course that’s just the beginning: there’s the sight of the salad tongs in my drawer that D’s mother sent him and he passed on to me. The thoughts of spending time alone this month in Taos, where I’d long imagined being–going to readings, running B, doing crosswords–with him. The sound of the Replacements songs that I put on his mix. (I’m not listening to it intentionally–I’m not that masochistic–but I have been putting on REM, my comfort music, compulsively, and the Replacements come right after in iTunes.)

I don’t know that I’ll ever shirk these associations completely. You never really do. (Though I suppose I should admit that until D, I associated the Replacements with someone else. Something about me and Paul Westerberg, go figure.)

So yeah, the sting will lessen. Someday I’ll be mostly nostalgic instead of mostly hurt. We had something lovely, that–when the anger and sadness wears–will be worth feeling warm and nostalgic for.

But in those moments when the mere sight of a stranger’s wedding ring makes me tear up (it happened, once, in an airport–travel makes me particularly fragile), it’s hard to imagine that time coming very soon.

When I talked to M, I briefly bemoaned the mental ache of returning to the single life.

“It really isn’t that bad,” he said, in that sincere tone I could almost believe. “And you have so much going on. Just keep doing your yoga, keep writing, just keep doing your thing.”

Not the most original advice, but important nonetheless. And so I do. I thank heaven for yoga and for cooking, for unbelievably loving friends and family, for the knowledge that I am committed to being serious about writing

Of course, I’d like to find someone else who makes me happy (and, apparently, mistype) before too long. But that’s one thing I can’t control, and therefore don’t want to think about, right now.

What I can think about are those things I can control: and at the moment that means working to put distance between D and the good things–from salad tongs to self-esteem–that he came with.

And in the meantime, watch out: me and Pippa are coming. Any day now.

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Post Mother’s Day Ode #2 to My Most Lovable Mom

Newsflash: contrary to what one sometimes thinks when single, being in a relationship does not make all one’s problems go away.

Having to move bedrooms? Way easier. Dealing with car problems? Definitely improved. Frequent, fragile mood swings and persistent insecurity about one’s body and talent? Thriving as ever.

One thing, though, that it turns out is a bit easier for me, when I’m attached, is my relationship with my mother.

Now, my mom and I, overall, have a pretty solid relationship. I’d say it’s above average, easily. We talk several times a week. We both have fairly easygoing temperaments. We each think the other is, objectively (yeah, right), pretty darn interesting and lovely and smart.

But as I write in a new essay, featured today on the website Style Substance Soul (like the cross self-promotion at work here? A girl’s gotta do…), it’s not always entirely rosey.

I tend to focus on the ways in which my mother and I alike: you know, on those tics and mannerisms of hers that, because I recognize them in myself, find consistently, irrationally, repulsive: the way we say “hmmm” when other people talk, even when we aren’t listening; the face we make when we look in the mirror. Etc.

But in truth, we are quite different people. As you may have noticed if you are reading this blog, I’m pretty comfortable being open about most things, excessively intimate details of my personal life included. My mother? Not so much.

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Thoughts on The L-Word, Cont’d

When I teach creative writing, like everyone else who who’s ever taught it, I constantly remind my students of the old adage “show, don’t tell.”

“Don’t tell us you hate your ex-boyfriend, show us that using scene, and voice, and image, and setting,” I say. “Dramatize!”

I repeat the words of one of my former teachers: “Nothing is less beautiful than beautiful”–the word is so abstract, so entirely subjective, to describe something as simply “beautiful” doesn’t tell us anything concrete.

When we study nonfiction, I tell them they’re allowed to show and tell: I read to them from an essay by Philip Lopate about the importance of reflection and tell them something I learned from a different professor: that the story is not as interesting as the sense the author makes of the story. (Whatever that means–like any platitude, it’s imperfect, and not always true.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about how this applies in life. Because I want people to show me their feelings–love, hate, whatever–but I also want them to tell me. For reasons I can’t explain, I need the reassurance that comes not just from affection, from meaningful actions, but from being told: from the statement “I love you.”

“You need something more detailed,” D observed when we had the conversation. More detailed, he meant, than the gestures and behaviors that signify love: I need the words themselves.

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The Problem With Memoir?

Last week my father sent me a link to an article about memoir from the New York Times: “it’s terrific, well written, and very funny” he wrote.

I had seen the headline–“The Problem With Memoirs”–but at that point, I hadn’t read it. Probably I hadn’t read it for the same reason I often don’t read New York Times articles: that I didn’t have time. Or at least, thought I didn’t have time. (Who has time to read whole news articles when there are endless Facebook statuses to skim and the internet is crowded with pretty pictures of lemon tarts and raspberry linzer cookies you like to fantasize about baking? Welcome to my world.)

But possibly I also didn’t read it because, well, because the headline promised a pretty direct attack on what I do.

It’s hard not to feel insecure about the impulse to write memoir. That article hammers home, rather agressively, the worst stereotype about the genre: that it’s filled with narcissistic, over-sharing attention whores shamelessly appealing to readers’ most base, voyeuristic impulses.

Now, I have never claimed that I don’t like to overshare. I’m not proud of this trait, but I accept it. The narcissistic label is one that I, with varying degrees of success, try and resist. Do I like attention? Sure, who doesn’t. (Okay, lots of people. But those of us who do aren’t exactly a minority.)

Should everyone who exhibits these traits write memoir? Of course not. Honestly, I think it’s really hard to write successful nonfiction. But it’s possible. It’s possible if you write well.

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There’s Something About Twenty-Seven

I’m not sure what ought to concern me more: that multiple people assumed I would connect with the recent film “Tiny Furniture” or that, when I finally watched it (home, with flu, on New Years Eve)–I actually did.

The movie—written, directed by and starring the obscenely talented, obnoxiously young Lena Dunham—centers on a college graduate from Tribeca as she moves back home, gets a job as a hostess, alternately bickers and snuggles with her mother, and attempts to date transparently unavailable men.

For the record, I did once live with my parents while working a hostessing job in Manhattan for just over four weeks in the fall of 2008. Also, I may have gone to a small Midwestern liberal arts college (Macalester) not totally dissimilar from that attended by the protagonist (Oberlin). I may be known to occasionally pursue men who blatantly ought not to be pursued. And it may, perhaps, be the case that—those writerly aspirations notwithstanding—I’m still not sure how I’m going to support myself when I grow up. (More specifically, when I finish my MFA.) Also, I do have  an occasional habit of snapping at my mother in one moment and, the next, tossing my feet on her lap.

What separates me, through, from the protagonist of “Tiny Furniture” (besides, among other things, more vanity and less successful parents), is that she’s twenty-two and I am twenty-seven. I’ve been out of college five years to her few months.  By the time she was my age, Cleopatra had two children and an empire. More recently, my mother had a husband, a career and three stepsons.

But, a lot’s changed since both of their times. Or so, at least, I like to tell myself.

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On Frazier and Baldessari and Stories of New York

Before leaving New York I caught an exhibit at the Met that, I’m afraid, closed today: a collection of works by the seminal Los Angeles artist John Baldessari. I love his work because it’s conceptual while also being playful—clever and thought-provoking but not at all pretentious.

One of the ideas he plays with is the complex, and sometimes arbitrary way we make meaning. He puts together found, seemingly unconnected images and inserts barriers between them. One piece juxtaposes a stylized photo of a woman with a nosebleed, and a picture of pelicans. Another takes four plain black and white photos with captions and arranges them in every possible permutation.

Adjacent to one of the photos is this quote, from the artist : “As soon as you put together two things you have a story.”

I loved that. And it seemed a perfect coda to end my time in New York.

Allow me, in my usual circuitous fashion, to explain.

For the most part, my experience with the city on this trip tended toward the negative.

First there was the whole stolen wallet thing. Then the twenty minutes it took me to walk two blocks of midtown logjam following my nausea-tinged bus ride. There was the response from one well-meaning employee to my alarm at paying $6.75 for a child-sized popcorn (“It’s freshly popped.”) And that of the horribly sour moviegoer who I asked whether anyone occupied the adjacent seat holding his coat (turning, in slow-motion, to look at me as though I’d interrupted his private meditation with a high-volume shriek).

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Good Stories and Bad. Or, Why the Word “Dating” Sucks.

“I think he might date a lot,” I said to S recently, by way of attempting to articulate what my reservations might be about someone I’ve seen a couple of times and altogether like.

“So?” she replied. “You kind of date a lot.”

My instinct was to respond indignantly: “No I don’t.” But before I could even find the words I mentally checked myself: actually, I realized, I kind of do.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“So, what’s wrong with that?” she asked.

It’s not only that I didn’t have a good response to her question, it’s that I didn’t have any response.

In telling the anecdote yesterday to my friend E–the sometime biking buddy I’ve hardly seen since she started medical school in August–we wound up having a nearly identical exchange.

“I knew you’d have boy stories,” she exclaimed with unbridled enthusiasm, crossing her legs and turning to face me in the corner booth at Flying Star–where’d nominally come to study. “Tell me stories!”

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