Friday, February 25, 2011

on dresses and doomsday

Even at the end of all our girlhood hopes, we are allowed to indulge in one final round of fairy tale dress-up; only at this age we are allowed champagne and the afternoon ends with a three thousand dollar price tag. Bridal boutiques exist not just to sell pounds upon pounds of overpriced lace and tulle, but also to give unmarried ladies that one last sprinkle of fairy dust. To sell them on the vows they are about to take. To remind us to believe.

We are all supposed to grow up eventually. To leave behind the schoolyard brooders in favor of a more stable mate, a man who will agree to grow up with us. In this way, babies are made and houses are painted; family portraits fan out across wide summer lawns. We trade in our Tinkerbell wings for something more sensible and then, well . . . may the next adventure be kind to us.

Call me a cynic, but I believe I've stopped believing. In true love, in marriage—or, more particularly: in one man's ability to say "I do" and follow through—for longer than feels convenient. I imagine all the happy endings and the honeymoons, then fast forward to the part where the erstwhile bride has to start all over again in middle age, pulling herself out of the darkness with banal activities and banana coladas while he reinvents the wheel. I dream—oh but I dream—of the man who'll show me otherwise.

That said, my dear friends K and J are both due for a trip down the aisle, on the sooner side of someday, and both have asked me to stand up there beside them. This honors me; I am honored. There could be no higher hopes than for these two unions. Ironically enough, I believe in them.

Two things have forced me to confront my mortality this week: first, the sangria hangover of doom, and second, the biopsy scrape of the lady-parts that leaves me to a week's worth of potentially pre-cancerous limbo. Throw in global warming, world unrest, and any number of asteroids likely to slam into Earth by the year 2039, and you get the feeling life is very short.

As I type this, I'm working across from Jack. He is frowning over his ancient iBook, jiggling a corduroy pantleg, staring hard at the screen through wire rim glasses as he tries to parse a thesis together out of paragraphs. His hair is mussed, his scruff is overgrown, and he is the handsomest thing I've ever seen. His eyes are sea glass green and invariably kind. When he touches me, I swoon like they used to do in movies, the doe-eyed heroines, sharp-tongued vixens in stockings with seams down the back and round-toed heels—Katherine Hepburn into someone worthy's arms. When he touches me, he means it.

If all this were to go away, the boyfriend, the bohemian renaissance . . . reality . . . I've found the peace that says: but at least there was this. There were good times, with mothers and fathers, with friends. Margaritas on the sidewalk on Second Avenue, cupcakes and champagne. There were travels to four out of seven continents, and the pictures to prove it. There were old friends and new friends and people who, when the hour cried for help, had my back. There are kindred spirits to be found, even past your prime, girls you can speak to like sisters and drink sangria on a Tuesday night like a couple of coeds in Cancun. There are women you can go to dinner with who won't mind if you cry into your moules frites the whole way through. And there is Peter Pan, who maybe doesn't always say the right thing, but he is always there—as I am there for him.

And now there's Jack. Who maybe doesn't love me (yet or ever will), but who has taught me how to love. How to wait for it, how give the word its due weight, how to relish the process and enjoy the road. How to see myself through someone who appreciates me, both body and brain, who believes in my ability to rise. I meet this challenge, I grow toward the sun outside the darkest closet. I . . . photosynthesize.

There's an awful lot of talk these days about gratitude. We thank ourselves for coming to the yoga mat, we thank the Universe for the gifts we are about to receive. What I find myself flooded with today is a deep sense of precisely that. This past half year has been a spin cycle of trial and triumph, but I'd be blind if I didn't recognize the sheer force of love that's hit me in the face from the profoundest of places. My mother, my father, my friends. Peter Pan and family. The tango community at large. And Jack. I've been strong enough to pull my ass out of bed every day and make lemonade, to varying degrees of success, but all the same. I made it. And I did so floated by the hands of the aforementioned.

So say the old Lakota warriors: It is a good day to die. If the rug is pulled from under my feet tomorrow, next Thursday, next year, I will have spent my time here wisely. Trying, failing, learning, living, and indulging in a little too much sangria for the sake of love.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

and here you come with a cup of tea

I took a cold shower yesterday morning. First, the hot water took off, tail between legs, before I could so much as shampoo myself. Then I stayed, to shake the dreams of Jack I'd had.

You see, happy or unhappy, our self-sabotaging subconscious knows us better—knows when to suggest the man who sent you Seamus Heaney lines on Tuesday could forget you by Thursday. Three days is all it takes to undo all the good of your best harvest. And my hard-wired rejection-happy heart knows it.

My Jack is an academic. Now that the semester has started, he'll be off teaching and reverse commuting half the week, and I will be here. Without him. This is a good thing. Forced autonomy, a chance for me to install safeguards and shoulders on my emotional superhighway, a chance to reroute my GPS back to me. I've seen what happens otherwise.

The trouble with finding someone compatible is just that. The things which make you . . . you . . . also make you two. I cannot separate this man from tango, from yoga, from opera . . . and worse, from writing. So I make a point of dancing on my own, accepting nods from strange new leaders, trying to improve. I found the yoga class to end all yoga classes, where I go every Tuesday and Thursday (day full of poetry, day of forgetting) to sweat and stretch and (fuck blog-writing me for saying this) find myself.

And writing . . . oh, writing. My hail mary pass MFA applications in, I realize just how far I've come: from someone who did not write what was not posted here, to someone with a thirty page memoir excerpt and an embryonic sense of discipline. It's clear I've had a breakthrough. My sample morphed—in leaps and strides—with Jack et al's edits. Because of him, I turn out 1500 words a week to the philosophers pool for quality control (else I cough up twenty bucks).

If he were to break my heart tomorrow, would I come to associate the practice of writing with the presence of him? Probably.

So I add a few guard rails to my turnpikes and beltways around the metropolis of him. I signed up for a fiction class at Hunter (first, for the abovementioned fears, and second, because it scares me). I now owe 1500 words to the philosophers and five pages to Grace Edwards and her group of lawyers and novelist retirees.

Thursday was our first session. We met at an Upper East Side Catholic high school, in a fifth floor classroom. I trudged up all five flights, watching the city get shorter through the landing windows, and made my way past the Lilliputian lockers to room A, where ten shimmy-in chair desks were arranged in a circle.

This is a good thing for you, says Em, and she's not wrong. She's also not wrong that, had it not been for the G.I.Q. and His Royal Highness The Mogul, I may never have been so scared into staying healthy, keeping my escape car stalling on the emergency rails.

Still, I went two days without a word from him and I was rattled. I tried to remind myself of where he was and why I'm nuts and that, if I would only think back to Tuesday night, I would find imprinted in my memory a dear man removing his spectacles to hold me while I slept. Trouble is, I went to sleep . . . and all the doubts turned to demons, to vivid dreams of cruel rejection. I woke up with a motor-churning gut ache, mad at dream him and madder still at real-life me.

Even if my new writing workshop didn't feel like an AA meeting (minus the coffeecake and cigarettes), I would still have the feeling that my life since The Eighth Plague has become a constant exercise of self-improvement. An evolution project in progress. Some days I fall asleep triumphant, others, mornings like yesterday, I wake up in panic; I question whether I've accomplished anything at all—or ever will. My first quarter century, once a rich garden of masterpieces and beautiful mistakes, reduced to phrases like this: "Failed actress/always-waitress can't hack it as career girl . . . watch her as she drifts through life on odd jobs and ephemera until her teeth fall out and she dies, penniless and alone." This is where all my best laid ambitions crumble and I laugh from somewhere dark inside myself. These Jack dreams are the same: the cold, throaty chortle of my sinister cynical self.

In yoga, you hear a lot about the two selves: Self and self. What if my true Capital S self is too weak to bear the weight of my (fuck me again) dreams? What if I'm just a lazy, uninspired, uninspiring dilletante, a woman weak in constitution who really just wants to belong to someone, to be somebody's wife? Only I'm the sort of smart-enough person to know that, if I ever got there, it would only end in the inevitable sucker punch to the heart (because everybody knows marriage amounts to nothing but betrayal and eventual falling-out-of-love).

He wrote. Of course he wrote. And we spent the evening together listening to Nina Simone by candlelight, talking about the non-separateness of human beings. My pulse slowed to its favorite weekend pace. I crawled into bed after the ritual silencing of my cell phone and slept the sleep of kings.

If domestic contentment means more to me than most everything else, and that state is ultimately unachievable, what am I do to? Keep writing plotless messes riddled with extra adjectives, lazy prose abandoned for insomniac episodes of Ally McBeal in my dark twin bed, numbing myself to all experience to protect me from the one pattern I just can't break?

He's no Ted Hughes (and I no Sylvia Plath).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

irony: not just for hipsters

Strolling through Bushwick hand in hand, after Saturday afternoon vinyasa death class, I realized why the intersection between Jack's loft and the yoga studio always feels so familiar.

Remember that douchebag Vegan realtor that took me apartment hunting in Bushwick?

Yeah well, I just realized that (had I been able to fit a twin bed in the room and still closed the door) I almost lived two blocks from Jack's apartment. In a never-been-renovated railroad apartment above a framing store. Across from a Getty gas and a few industrial warehouse loading zones.

Also: Tuesday nights after tango class we've been eating our brought-from-home sandwich dinners over paper cups of tea at a deli on 7th Avenue. One never notices the names of these places, but—just in case you were curious—this particular one is called The New Start Deli.