Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Inimitable Worm

Writing is a lonely racket. It kinda has to be, if you're doing it right. There's you, and the palette on which you're spraying your brilliance -- laptop, yellow legal pad, vintage Olivetti, whatever -- and the cranky, capricious, perverted worm in your brain that offers up the words but also enjoys shifting gears without warning between your mother tongue and the language of some long lost tribe, then grows surly with impatience at your inability to translate. That is what one would call a genuine mindfuck.

In the last two days, I've left my apartment for exactly ninety minutes: I joined my parents for Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant here in town, then came straight back home and planted my ass in the chair. Now, truth be told, yesterday I did, off and on, partake of a pleasant distraction: there was a Modern Family marathon on one of the cable channels, and I'm not ashamed to admit I watched a few episodes. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. It is sneaky fucking funny, in part because the cast is phenomenal (timing is a dish they serve cold, every time), but also because the directing and editing are brilliant. And it's sneaky touching. There's a scene where the patriarch of the family, played by Ed O'Neill (of Married, With Children infamy), offhandedly assuages his gay son's partner's newfound insecurities regarding the son's former boyfriend, whom everyone in the family seems to adore. "There's gotta be something there I don't see," the father says. "He didn't exactly bring out the best in Mitchell. Not like you do." There's no design to it, he's just making conversation. And yet it does the trick, and it's kind of a beautiful moment. So go watch Modern Family.

When I haven't been watching Modern Family or sleeping or gazing at my Bettie Page snow globe, I've been working on an essay I hope someplace with a bit more reach than my little blog might publish. It's going to be pretty lengthy when it's done -- I'm maybe a third of the way through, and it's already at about 2200 words (3500 words is probably the high end of average). For a variety of reasons, I've had occasion of late to think about (to steal from Nobel laureate Alice Munro, quite possibly the only Canadian I'll ever admire) the progress of love. Recently I've witnessed a handful of friends going through tumultuous and, in most cases, unexpected endings to their relationships. It's painful to watch because these people are my friends and I hate to see them suffer the rough strife of divorce. It's also tough because I've done all that and so I'm well versed in the tales we tell ourselves while we still believe there's something we can salvage. I don't know how many stages there are to the end of a long-term relationship, but I do know the worst of them repeat, and goddamn doesn't that suck. How many times did I go through my day thinking, "I can do this," only to get home and spend a sleepless night chewing on the inside of my cheek from abject frustration? It calls to mind Hemingway's line from The Sun Also Rises: "It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing."

All of which got me thinking about my own history of relationships. We could debate the semantics of what constitutes a relationship -- I know I've been guilty of underestimating a time or two in the past. There was the woman I reluctantly hooked up with a handful of times who, probably to this day, considers me not only an ex-boyfriend, but an ex-boyfriend who treated her badly. Believe me, that's her creative fantasy. Not to toot my own horn, because this is only admirable up to a very fine point, but I don't lie to women to get laid: if it is what it is and no more than that, I don't allow any illusions to linger. In other words, I won't lie to you, so don't lie to yourself. Ah, well, sometimes you can't win. Then there's the rare converse, the lovely pretend girlfriend I had for a while, who was absolutely anything but pretend and deserved more, but took me as I was. There's a lesson for you: it is always better to be with a person who doesn't judge you based on how shitty she feels about herself. The pretend girlfriend was a keeper. I hope there's some excellent guy doing just that.

Anyway, the essay isn't about the implacable one or the one who took me as I am. It's about the ones who left an indelible mark. For the purposes of the essay, there were five: the first girl I kissed, the first one I slept with, the college girlfriend, the mother of my child, and the one who completely undid me. It's about the ways I came to be with them in the first place, and about the ways each relationship ended. I have to say, it's been nice recalling the sweet stuff. It makes you feel like less of a schmuck when you can put into words some of the whys and the wherefores. You always feel like a schmuck when it crashes and burns not by your choice, and that's because in the slow descent toward death you see all the shitty things about the other person, and you can't help but wonder what the hell is wrong with you that you didn't see how shitty that person could be right from the outset. It's a despicable side-effect of rough strife. If you're lucky, you shake it off in short order and move on somewhat the wiser.

So you may be wondering, since I claim to have been working on this awesome essay, why am I spending the latter part of my night writing a blog about it rather than continuing to work on the essay itself? Well, because it's a little bit overwhelming, both the good stuff and the bad. In places there's a depth of history that can lead quite easily to pitfalls and dead-ends. There are betrayals that still sting, and the memories of my own missteps that still make me cringe. And in its eminently perverse way, the worm in my brain decided to start offering up the story in Portuguese, which is a gorgeous language but not one I'm equipped to follow. I'll tell ya, if I didn't need it so badly, I'd squeeze the life out of that worm here and now. Instead, I'll take it to bed, and hope tomorrow he wakes up ready to tell his tale, and spouting nothing but beautiful English.

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