Thursday, September 29, 2005

wee blessing

When I come home, I am always surprised to find that I haven't been robbed. I am pleased to see that the windows of my car have not been smashed, that the car still stands where I left it. I've come to expect the worst from people I've never met and that is something I would like to change. On 2nd Street, where I live, there is a whole wall that has been graffitied with the words, "Everything you know about hair care is wrong. You've been Shampoozled." It is a small thing, I know, but isn't it also a weird confirmation that people lie? All the time?
I lost a silver ring today. I slipped it off beside the computer in the school library and didn't remember it until I'd left. Walking back to check an hour later, one sneakered foot in front of the other through the mud, I knew I would never see it again.
It is not worth more than fifteen dollars but Robert and I bought it at a market in Istanbul last summer and, after trying on dozens, this is the one he pointed to and said, "I like it."
In Turkey, I learned that Robert loves mother-of-pearl. People who know Robert would not guess this, would not imagine, probably, that the existence of mother-of-pearl, all shiny pastels, has ever made an impression in his thoughts. After he said that, I looked back at the ring, I saw that it was perfect.

Just now, I stumbled back into the library and the ring was here, slipped into an envelope and left at the front desk by a stranger who found it and thought, "This belongs to someone else." I opened the envelope like it was a present left by Santa Claus, someone you should know by now doesn't really exist.

I am the dog

"And even though I was having a great time and becoming a better writer, the truth was that the year I entered graduate school was the year I stopped making decisions that were appropriate for my situation and began making a rich person's decisions. Entering this graduate program was a rich person's decision. But it's hard to recognize that you're acting like a rich person when you're becoming increasingly poor."

"Like a social smoker whose supposedly endearing desire to emulate Marlene Dietrich has landed her in a cancer ward, I have recently woken up to the frightening fallout of my own romantic notions of life in the big city: I am completely over my head in debt. I have not made a life for myself in New York. I have purchased a life for myself."

--Meghan Daum, "My Misspent Youth"

Underneath her smiling book jacket photograph, it says, "She has recently moved from New York City to Nebraska."

And everyone I know keeps asking me what I plan to do when I finish school in May (except my boyfriend, who never mentions anything related to the future for fear of having another conversation about, erm, what is going to become of us). Depending on my stress level, these are my responses:
1. "I'm going to keep writing and sending my essays out. And then I will try to publish this -- dare I say the word? -- book."
2. "I'm going to get married and have a fat baby. Right, Rob? Rob?"
3. "I've always wanted to study reflexology."
4. "I'll keep teaching yoga and maybe I'll go back to grant writing."
5. "Temp?"
6. "I'm leaving New York as soon as I'm finished."
"Where are you going?"
"Either Mexico or Guatemala. Or London. Or Paris. Or Southern California. Or someplace else."

I am blessed not to have any student loans, indebted instead to the generosity of a deceased great-grandmother and parents who want, more than anything, for my sister and me to be happy. Robert and I have paid the rent for our apartment through May. I worked full-time during three years at NYU and have decided, now, other than teaching regular private yoga lessons, to give myself this time to write and read and sometimes write and read (and, admit it, do the Times crossword puzzles), in bed, all day, getting up to make mugs of tea and check my email and go to the gym. It's fabulous, particularly (and only) because I know that it won't last forever.

Last spring, Jo Ann asked us to write from the perspective of a dog in a truck. "A dog?"I thought. "I didn't come to graduate school to become a dog." (Didn't I, though? And a very pampered one at that.) But this morning, zipping north on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, my windows rolled down and the wind whipping my hair into a thousand fuck-knots, I got it. "I am the dog," I thought. "I am that kind of happy."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

its an MFA in writing and I, like, totally earned it

The token boy in my graduate nonfiction workshop this semester is named Jason. It is my second year at Sarah Lawrence and this is my first co-educational class and the truth is, of course, that I hated him immediately. Despite the fact that I spent last year bemoaning the lack of "male energy" -- blaming the circles of women (some of them actually knitting) for the easy slip that our workshops took as they adopted the feel of group therapy. We would read Anne's essay, a profile of her friend Sohrab, and go through the motions of discussing its structure until one of us finally asked what we had all been thinking: "Did you sleep with him?" Somehow, without men around, it seemed okay to do this. And Anne blushed, shook her head. Our teacher looked at her, said, "Well, then, what happened?"

For the past four Wednesdays, Jason has worn the same pair of cut-off jean shorts, black shoes with black socks that are scrunched down around his ankles, black T-shirt. It's not his fault that we've stopped discussing our sex lives during our *critiques* (that's due, I think, to the influence of a more serious teacher, who, when revealing her personal life, does not expound further than, "I really"). But Jason has been offering the sort of criticism that goes nowhere. To a girl who wrote about a night at a comedy club, he said, "This just didn't do it for me. I didn't feel it. Show, don't tell. You need to build up the tension to an a-ha moment."
I raised my hand. "Actually, I disagree with everything that Jason said. The freeing thing about nonfiction, according to Philip Lopate, is that you don't have to 'show' us. And if you're going to build up something, why not let it be the a-ha-ha-ha moments? This is about comedy."
Jason annoyed me. And last week, when our teacher stood at the blackboard with a piece of chalk in her hand and said, "Some of you don't seem to know the difference between 'its' and 'it's'..." I started to feel claustrophobic. At the end of the two hours, I pushed back my chair and ran from the room.

I saw Jason in the library yesterday. Same shorts, same socks. Before I thought to stop myself, I waved my hand and whispered hello. He sat down beside me and we talked for a few minutes. "I haven't left my apartment in days," he said. "Are you sick?" I asked. He looked at me strangely. "No," he said. "I've been busy writing."
He offered to give me some of his work and fished around in his messenger bag for two essays. Half an hour later, I sat in the library basement, beside the Coke machines, reading them one after the other. They are about his depression, his suicide attempt while he worked in the Peace Corps. The words, sick and ugly, that he carved into his arm with a pair of scissors.

I am learning and re-learning that I can never have too much compassion. I am learning, the more I do them, how little it matters what you actually say in a writing workshop. What matters, I guess, is that the people whose work is being read feel that attention is being paid to what they wrote. I don't think Jason, for all his proselytizing about taking his writing seriously, needs to be critiqued as much as he needs to feel that we are listening. That I am interested in something other than a fight.

Monday, September 26, 2005

no baby gemini

A week ago Friday, Robert walked in the door at eight o'clock in the morning straight off a plane from Sao Paulo, still in his suit from the day before. I met him in my blue bathrobe, feeling shy about the horrible conversations we'd had on the phone in the four days he'd been away. Lately I have felt overwhelmed by an itchiness to speed things up, to stop this endless and inevitable waiting that comes with years-long transatlantic relationships. I had delivered an ultimatum that we either get engaged or break up. Robert responded by flying from London to New York and staying with me for a week without ever mentioning it. My threat hung around, the elephant in the apartment that only seemed to take up more space the harder both of us tried to ignore it.
And now, we didn't exchange pleasantries or chit-chat about his flight, the news, the state of real estate in Brazil. Robert took off his jacket and hung it on the coatrack and then he picked me up, carried me to the bedroom, and put me down on my back on the futon that he loves to hate. He kissed the sweet spot on my neck, between my earlobe and collarbone. I took off his cufflinks and unbuttoned his shirt and spread my palms flat against his chest, and then his back, to pull him closer.
An hour later, I sat on the living room floor, trying to discern when, exactly, my fertile days were expected and whether or not we'd done something stupid. I say stupid because if I were to get pregnant at this point, I could not have an abortion. Despite all the reasons not to have a baby now, it is something I want too much. There is something absurdly primordial in my head, whispering, "babybabybaby." How tempted I am to throw all the balls in the air and just try to juggle all of them, to push Robert into stepping up and letting a baby choose committment for him., calculating according to the dates of my last period, reported that I had already ovulated. If I were to get pregnant now, though, the due date would be June 15th and the baby would be a Gemini. They offered up a list of all the possible due dates in a calendar year and sorted them by astrological category. was designed for hopeful, expectant parents, not single twenty-five-year-olds who have homework to do. (Seriously. Homework. I've been working my way through Proust's Swann's Way for the better part of two weeks.)

Last night I got my period and I felt relief. I stood in the bathroom watering the fern on the windowsill, spilling dirt on my hands, and I laughed at the ridiculousness of our having a baby now.
And then, I thought of the ultimatum I had delivered, and how that issue deserves to be decided because of how it feels for the two of us to be alone together.
No elephant, no baby, no pressure.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

feeling beautiful

When I was twenty, I wrote a book in the second person, addressed to my future lover, as yet unknown. “Saying I love you,” it began, “is saying I want to be your mother. I want to tuck your collar into your coat, push your hair behind your ear, brush breadcrumbs off your lips, make our bed clean with soapy-smelling pillowcases softened by handfuls of dryer sheets. Flannel sheets in the winter, crisp ironed cotton in the heat. Let me rub your back when you are tired, draw a bath for your homecoming after long days, squeeze you Valencia orange juice on your way out the door. I will buy the toilet paper, our peanut butter, massage oil, and my birth control pills. I will take care of the magazine subscriptions, The New Yorker, Vogue, our daily Times.
I will dress myself up for you, I will dress myself down, shave my legs, pay for and survive Brazilian bikini waxes, keep my eyebrows threaded into perfect arcs. I will purr for you, play geisha for you, schoolgirl for you in my kilt and knee socks, polka-dotted panties, kama sutra picture book open on my lap.
“Teacher, I’ve read the chapter and I’m ready for the final exam.”
“Open your book to page sixty-nine.” Love me, I thought, you just love me, and it will be enough and I will take care of the details.
You will never have enough of me, I thought; saying you love me is saying that you will never have enough of wanting.”

I’m five years older now. I read all the pages I wrote and they strike me as dramatic and too sexualized but then, I stop. I think, “With my lovers, with all of my lovers, I am nurturing and maternal. I feel most attractive when I am giving, when I am making the people that I care about feel good.”

When I think about my ex-girlfriend, Shannon, what I remember most is one night in February several years ago, when she was sick with pneumonia. I came over to her apartment – trampled through the snow and waited for the G train to take me, in the time I imagined someone could have cooked a turkey, from Ft. Greene to Greenpoint. Back on the street, I pulled my wool cap further down my forehead and got lost looking for her street. When I found it, twenty minutes later, she answered the door in flannel pajama bottoms with skiing penguins on them; her hair loose and tangled, and her glasses perched on the tip of her runny nose. In one hand she held a wad of damp Kleenex and in the other, her cell phone, on which she was talking to her mom about her brother, David, who had been getting into bar fights in Australia.
I dropped my bag, pulled off my boots, and unzipped my coat before settling into the corner of her velvet couch. She has never looked more beautiful to me than she did ten minutes after that when I said, “You’ve been lying in your bed all day. Let me change your sheets.”
She hesitated. “No, no,” she said. “I can do it.” She held onto the doorframe to steady her self. “Shannon,” I said, “I am going to change your sheets now. Sit down.” And she did. In her bedroom, I cleared off library books on lexicons and poetry, the black leather handcuffs tangled at the bottom of the bed, abandoned there in the early hours of Sunday, two weeks earlier. I put a jar of fish food on her bedside table, carried the dirty water glasses to the sink, and came back to fluff her pillows.
She looked beautiful to me that night, it’s not because she was vulnerable and sick and told me that she needed me. She never said that; she never would have. What she meant when she said that she would do it was, “I don’t need you. I can take care of myself.” And what I meant when I scratched her freckled back while she fell asleep after feeding her single wedges of a Clementine was, “Thank you for not feeling that you need to be strong all the time.” If I had taken a photograph, I don’t think it would have come through, how beautiful she looked, and it’s better this way besides, because I was the only one who saw.