Thursday, November 25, 2010

Notes as breadcrumbs

I’m sitting alone at a table in Fairfax, Virginia, working on two assignments, but using the same notepad.

I’m re-reading Joan Didion’s The White Album for a paper. At first, I didn’t get Joan Didion. I wonder if women with butts and boobs are supposed to get Joan Didion. Her writing is as sharp and clean as her figure – she’s a scalpel of a writer. The first time I read The White Album I thought it was blindingly harsh – like those days when you are driving down the freeway and suddenly the sun comes out from behind a cloud and you almost plow right into the back of a sedan loping along in front of you with Canadian plates. That, to me, is Joan Didion. But I am re-reading The White Album and reading, for the first time, The Year of Magical Thinking and discovering brilliance on these pages – like my eyes finally adjusted to the light.

I’m also working on a restaurant review for an online publication. I’m trying to hide my notes from friendly Taylor, who’s grinning at me, refilling my coffee, and doing a very fine job of NOT asking why one five-foot-tall woman just ordered two appetizers and two entrees. (I ask people to come with me on these things, but Tuesdays never good. Neither are Wednesdays. And never on Mondays. And so on. Eventually I have a deadline. You get the picture. Sometimes I get take-out and make my landlady try the food with me – but she comes up with really oddball remarks like “the hummus tastes minty on the tip of my tongue and lemony on the back of my tongue.” And then I feel like I have to write that down so she doesn’t think I’m ignoring her thoughts and ideas. Because I did come to her for help, didn’t I?)

I look down at my notes.
P. 1 – “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

I jot below it: We tell our loved ones stories to make them laugh, to distract them from the fact that life just took a wild, irreversible, gruesome left turn.

And then just below that: The Mexican chowder is vegetable soup’s sexy new girlfriend. The one his mother won’t let him marry. (No projecting there.) And then, I guess, I think twice about this analogy and write, No, the Mexican chowder is the offspring of chili and vegetable soup. Ah, that’s better.

I love notes. I jot down things all the time. I just need a better filing system. Sometimes, I’ll be looking for a phone number I scrawled sideways along a yellowed notepad buried in a drawer for two years and run across something like, “Third day without sleep. The midgets are coming. Buy helmet.” I have absolutely no idea what this means anymore. Perhaps it was a poem.

Third day
Without sleep
The midgets are coming

When I was moving, I found a list of goals I’d jotted down when I was about 23. Back then, I had hoped, I could perhaps land a communications job in a non-profit. (I was then an executive assistant.) At that age, I didn’t have the balls to give writing a real shot. And I was too timid to even consider journalism. Unless I had seen the note with my eyes, I never would have believed I had blown through my own expectations.

Speaking of notes, there’s a passage in The Year of Magical Thinking that haunts me. Didion is browsing the files on her husband’s computer almost a year after his death. He keeps a file marked “AAA Random Thoughts” and she notices it was updated the date of his death. She opens it. What was he thinking that day? What stone had skipped across his mind, leaving tiny ripples, and then disappeared?

“The file called “AAA Random Thoughts” was 80 pages long. What it was he added or amended and saved at 1:08 p.m. that afternoon I have no way of knowing.”

That's one of those crushing mysteries, isn't it?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ex-boyfriend for sale or trade

The best relationship advice I ever heard came from a white-sneakered septuagenarian strapped next to me on a transatlantic flight from Boston to Rome. We were held captive by the lit seatbelt sign, snug between tray table and knobby blue seat. My boyfriend at the time was collapsed in slumber next to the window, drooling on a pillow the flight attendant brought him five minutes after boarding.
We sensed in one another a kinship – both descended from the Tribe of Chat. She asked the first, polite question – nothing I remember. And then we were off -- two women desperately in need of muzzles. Three hours later, we’d each knocked back four tee-tiny airline bottles of wine, and she was flagging down the attendant in hopes of scoring us a few shots of Bailey’s.
I think it was after our second shot (or was it third?) that she confided in me a secret. She was a bride of one month, she said, when she decided her husband’s hours as a doctor left too few moments for her. And so she packed a bag and went home to her mother and father. Her parents brewed a pot of coffee, sat her down, and her father said this, “Your marriage has a price. And only you can determine what that price is."
She said she went to bed that night, and the next morning went home to her husband. By the time she was speaking to me on the plane, she’d been married more than 50 years. She decided that the price she had to pay (time without her husband) was worth the sliver of time she did get to be with him.
That advice stuck with me. It’s simple and puts things in perspective. I think of it today – as yet another boyfriend – who started out so funny and fun -- is about to bite the dust. (He’s smothering me to the point where I want to paint my face blue and run across an open field waving a flag with a giant vagina on it, screaming Freeeeedddooooooommmmm.) I've decided the price of his opening doors and picking up checks is not worth this persistent feeling that a dwarf is sitting on my trachea.
For me, it's helpful to think of relationships in economic terms. (Is the weight of a dwarf worth free Buffalo chicken sliders at Ruby Tuesdays? I think not.)

Even better, I think, what if women could buy or trade one another’s past relationships on eBay or Craigslist? What if we could make a little money off our past love lessons and heartbreak? And you know what they say, one woman’s clingy psycho is another woman’s treasure.
48-hour fling with incredibly good looking, 40-year-old Peter Pan-type narcissist. Let him take you to his favorite haunt on South Beach. Look at your reflection in his designer sunglasses as he prattles on about himself and try to remember why you are here. Buy now for $25. Will also negotiate for a Starbucks gift card or a coupon for two free Nachos Belle Grande.
Six month relationship with world’s fattest tri-athlete. Get up at 4 a.m. every six weeks to shout “Go! Go!” as he waddles into the surf. Try to ignore that a perfectly innocent bicycle seat disappears beneath his giant ass. Then sit trapped in the car with him as he yells at you for talking in the transition area – which is the ONLY reason he came in last. Buy now for $50. Will also trade for a used Billie Holiday CD and a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Tequila-fueled, one night stand with smoking-hot Turkish filmmaker who spent two years working on a 120-minute documentary about hands. Obtain during said evening the best compliment you’ve ever had or will ever have. Buy now for $5,000 or trade for similar.
Two year relationship with the British version of Woody Allen. Listen to him worry incessantly about everything and nothing in “adorable” “smart-sounding” accent. Tell time "he's not really losing his hair. Really." Buy now for $200. Will also trade for one night of Salsa dancing and cocktails with sexy Latino.
10-year friendship with world’s best guy ever. Date him five years, plus five years of miraculous friendship. Watch him save your ass time and again. Bounce nutty ideas off him time and again. Be amazed as he surfs the crazy in your life like Kelly Slater. Buy now for $5 million. May trade for kidney or organ of similar importance.

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