Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kings of I-Want-to-Have-Their-Children

I went to see Kings of Leon at Mesa Amphitheater last night, and they blew me the fuck away. The opening act was the Walkmen, and they were fairly good—they were much more talented than most openers I’ve seen, with a good vocalist and a solid backing band, but the difference between them and Kings of Leon was palpable.

I shouldn’t be surprised, given that I’ve previously compared Kings of Leon to Bob Dylan, but it’s always an astonishing moment to stumble upon an artist with the presence. You know what I mean—there are musicians (and writers and painters and even politicians) who do more than play music: who create a living atmosphere for the people around them, who create an entire universe out of the things they feel and see, and who bring you into that universe and make you a part of it. It’s always a small miracle.

The band was having trouble hearing themselves; Caleb Followill kept mentioning it apologetically, saying it was “one of those nights when you walk on the stage and everything goes wrong.” And sure, they dragged a little, and drummer Nathan did his damndest to correct it subtly, like a drummer should, and Matthew, who normally sets everything in motion and never drops it like some magical harmonic juggler, seemed to pretty desperately need his cigarette by the end of the night, but if that’s what they sound like when everything is going wrong then they truly have the gift. Because I was there, in the Kings of Leon universe, and nothing took me out of it. Even a bad night was saved by the intrinsic energy of the songs; exuberance is written into them like a diamond in a setting, and honestly the whole experience was sex in a medicine cup—a strong fucking dose that leaves you shaking your head and wincing, but cured of your ills. Couples everywhere were making out by the end of the set, and I don’t think it was just the beer.

(Just as an aside, if Jared Followill should ever desire to give in to the evolutionary inclination to reproduce, I totally volunteer my healthy and fine-boned Eastern European genes for the task. Let me know if you need my qualifying credentials.)

So, yeah, if you get the chance to see Kings of Leon live, do it, because even on a bad night they will impress.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The I-Wish-it-Wasn't-Lost Weekend

       It was a knock-down-drag-'em-out fight with the elements this weekend; I carried Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love around with me like it was a pocket Bible just to keep me sane.
      Ex-boyfriend number 6 did, in fact, call me up to go have a beer.  We arranged to meet at our favorite old oyster house/outdoor bar down in Tempe at 6 after work on Friday, and I made contingency escape plans for the hookah bar with my roommate Pete and Dwyer (who was, thankfully, in town to visit before he takes off to Mongolia for two years.  Yes, Mongolia) just in case the night went badly.
      It went great.
      Not the kind of great where you end up with a hangover and a "shit what did I do" morning, but the kind of great you hope for when you see an ex.  We were there til eleven at night just talking about the past year and catching up and sharing ideas we had developed and talking about plans.  We did talk about his breakup with this recent girl, but that didn't bother me all that much.  We got along just fine, we touched on our relationship but didn't get into it beyond vague generalizations of what happened, and we had a few good laughs and some drinks.
      And even though it went great, and we left with a hug and a "See you around," I was fucking exhausted.  I went straight home to bed, slept for eleven hours, and spent the next day desperately trying to carve out time for myself in between all the things I had committed to (graduation parties, errands, etc.) By eight o'clock Saturday night I called up everyone I still had plans with and said, "Sorry, can't do it," and went to the hookah bar and sat with Pete and Dwyer and pontificated on the nature of relationships and continued our quest to offend the entire universe.
     Then I went home, got ready for bed, and when my friend called me I burst into tears.
     For the past six years I've been going through what can only be described as a dental saga--I have a congenitally missing tooth and a peg incisor and have been going through braces and retainers and surgeries and implants to get them fixed.  It's been kind of a bitch.  
     We're in the final stages, now, though, and just last week my dentist took what are hopefully the last molds of my teeth and put on a temporary tooth and a temporary veneer until the lab can make permanent ones based on the molds.  And he said, "You'll have to stop biting your nails because that can rip off the temporaries."
      I stopped biting my nails once before, but then I learned how to play the guitar and had to clip them anyway and I just figured, screw it, why make it more difficult than it has to be?  I haven't been able to quit again since, but this time I stopped the very same day my dentist told me to.  Not cold turkey, or anything, but I stopped enough that I managed to grow some actual nails and my cuticles aren't quite as mutilated as they usually are.
        About a week ago it occurred to me that the last time I stopped biting my nails was the last time I really felt like I liked who I was, until recently. Then it occurred to me that nail-biting is really just the physical manifestation of my mental self-blame and incessant nitpicking, which I have only begun to learn to control and eliminate in the past year--and because I've learned to control and eliminate that, it's that much easier to control and eliminate my nail-biting.  
       And this is what I told ex-boyfriend number 6 over my Blue Moon and veggie burger when we were getting into the changes we were making in our respective lives, and the things we had learned about ourselves.  I showed him my nails.
      Later I absentmindedly put my thumbnail to my mouth and he said, "You're biting your nails, by the way."  Accusatorily, as though I had lied.
      And of all the things he told me in the five hours we spent together, this was the thing that I kept remembering all weekend, just vaguely popping into my head at random times.  I couldn't figure it out; honestly all of Saturday I didn't really have time to try to figure it out, until I started crying on Saturday night, and my friend asked me what was wrong.

     It wasn't that he had criticized me, or even just that seeing an ex who hadn't spoken to me in a year was just an emotionally exhausting experience.  What upset me was how he casually dismissed the physical evidence of all the changes I worked so hard to bring about in my life since we broke up.  He didn't care that I had changed, that I have begun to make the small steps that lead to giant leaps, that I have stopped beating myself up over everything, enough that I can do things that are healthy for me easily, with very little regression.  
    Perhaps it is silly, to be upset that he didn't recognize what such a small thing meant for me--but it means he doesn't know me any more.  I felt like even the history we had, the last remnant of what we were to each other, was really gone, and I felt so deeply the fact that we were starting over from scratch, two people who haven't even seen each other in nine months, much less maintained any semblance of a relationship.  I heard somewhere it takes a cat nine months to forget its owner completely.  
    This desire I have, and my wish that he would still know which things were so important to me, reminds me a little of the movie Anastasia, with Yul Brinner and Ingrid Bergman, where (spoiler alert, but hey, it's a classic anyway and you should know the ending) the Russian Empress recognizes Anastasia because she coughs because she is frightened.  These are things your family knows about you and should always be able to recognize--and he was my family.  
    Was is the operative word in that sentence.
    So I am sad, but it is okay, and probably as it should be.  Maybe we can get together every couple of months in the name of people who cared about each other, have a beer, have a laugh, and call it quits for the evening.  
    But I am sad.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Two Hours in the Sun Was Worth It

Last night I went to ASU's commencement where the President was speaking (courtesy of my friend Meg, who got her Masters):

That's it. I'm getting my PhD and finishing my damn novel.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Motivational Post For My Friend Sam

Yesterday Sam gave me a pretty solid kick on the behind in an attempt to motivate me to post, and today I owe her one.

Samantha, get off your ass and clean your room.

I'm not telling you this because I care whether your room is clean, or because I know you wanted me to tell you this.

I'm telling you this because it's a small thing you can change about your day today. I'm telling you this because I know you are feeling the major suckitude of the post-graduation black hole that is being broke from working your ass off at a job that's boring and meaningless, and because I know you want to start putting your life in order. And cleaning your room is constructive effort towards a small improvement. Maybe it's a baby step, but it's a step all the same. If you like the place you live, you can begin to like living there, and that's a good start for putting your life in order. If you set yourself a task and accomplish it, that's another good start for putting your life in order.
The main character in one of my favorite books said, "Keeping yourself clean, cooking, eating, clearing away afterward--that's what life's about." And I think that's true. I think taking care of yourself is the first step toward living a life that means something, and, as mundane as it sounds, cleaning your room is one of the many ways to take care of yourself.

So, Samantha, get off your ass and clean your room.
And then call me, because I miss you very much.

No One Was Harmed in the Writing of This Post

Yesterday as I was leaving work I saw a massive fire about two miles away. I stopped into the gas station on the corner, and as I pumped, I could see flames—from two miles away. “There’s no way that’s a one-house fire,” I thought, and it also occurred to me then that the fire was remarkably close to Ex-Boyfriend #6’s parents’ house.

So I called him.

I knew that he was probably at work; I knew that he very likely had moved out and gotten his own apartment; I also knew that for the last nine months he has refused to answer my phone calls. After our breakup he cut me out of his life, telling me that he “needed some time” and that possibly we could be friends again in a few months. I tried to call him a few months later and had no response. The only time I ever heard from him after that was once involving a party with mutual friends, coordinating our plans so that we could avoid each other. The only time I ever saw him was once, on campus, driving in his car with another girl (which was, it must be admitted, likely the least awful way that knowledge could be imparted to me).

Considering we spent three years as the best of friends, and that our relationship ended as a result of a mutual agreement, all this was fairly confusing and painful for me.

But I thought, “I know it’s probably not his house that’s burning down, and that even if it was he’s probably not in it, but what if it was?” I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for not trying, one more time.

So I called him.

And he answered.

He hung up right away again in order to go call his parents when I explained why I had called, but he called me back an hour later, to tell me that his house was fine and the fire was actually up the street a bit, and so we could ask each other the absolutely tender and quite serious, “How are you doing?” that I think all exes want to ask each other.

We talked about jobs, and his graduation, and the things you first say to that question, and then I asked, "How else are you doing?"

“Ah, “ he said, “I went through a pretty rough emotional time recently.”

“Bad breakup?”

He hesitated. “Yeah, it was pretty nasty. I’ve still got all this latent anger hanging around, I don’t even know why or where it’s coming from.” (By the way, isn’t it great that you can pick up a relationship at almost the same intimacy level where you left off, even with a nine-month hiatus? I’m quite serious. Isn’t it fantastic that he’s still inclined to tell me things he probably doesn’t talk to about to a number of people? Isn’t it great that no matter what we do, or how long we decide not to talk to each other, we are still good friends?)

“Yeah,” I said, “I was pretty pissed at you for a few months”—

“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be talking to you about this." He laughed uncomfortably.

“No, it’s okay. I would tell you if I were uncomfortable talking about something.” I paused for a moment, because I realized that was absolutely true, an exhilarating discovery. I didn’t want to know her name, and I didn’t want to hear an in-depth discussion of their relationship, but I was perfectly happy talking about his feelings about it. This was astonishing to me, because what is okay for me and what is not is something I would not have been capable of saying, or realizing, just a year ago. “Anyway,” I continued, “the reason I told you that was just to say that it does go away.”

“All right,” he said.

We talked a little longer about it, and about his job, and my job, and then I said, “Well, it’s great talking to you again.”

“Yeah," he said, "I've been thinking about you, and I wanted to call you up. I shouldn't have cut you out of my life like that. I had it done to me, and it's not cool."

"It's okay," I said, again surprised by the truth coming out of my mouth. "It was actually really good for me at the time."

"Well, I did need the space, but I could have called you way before this, and I'm sorry."

Most apologies come after you don't even really need them anymore. But then I guess most apologies come because of where the apologizer is, and not wholly because of the needs of the apologizee.

Somewhere at the end of all of that he said, "We should go get a beer sometime."

"Sure," I said, "But if you don't mind, I think I'm going to let you call me."

My first reaction to all of this, I have to admit, was to think about what it would be like to get back together, and to imagine scenarios leading to said reconnection. But I managed to keep them under control. Now I know a little better just where they come from: a little bit from my tendency towards idealization, a little bit from my hyperactive imagination, and a lot from the part of me that feels more comfortable when a decision has already been made. I like to decide what I want in advance, because otherwise I get overwhelmed by the pressure to make a decision in a short amount of time. The future has always been as real to me as the present; sometimes more so. But now I am beginning to recognize that this is just how I deal with the possibilities presented by new information, and that I should not let it control my reactions.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my relationships (I can hear the chorus of "Duh" echoing from everyone who knows me). I dated a guy recently for two months, and even in that short period of time a lot of the same problems I've always had with men cropped up.

There is a Buddhist idea (Nalin, feel free to jump in if I'm explaining this wrong) that the point at which suffering can be eliminated is in the space between desire and grasping; i.e., the moment after you feel a desire but before you actually reach out to act on the desire. It's the moment between hunger and eating, anger and lashing out, loneliness and latching on to anything that moves in the hopes that even baggage-filled angry interaction will be better than not alone.

I never thought I had a problem with grasping. Grasping seemed to me to be the territory of materialism, of consumerist needs for big-screen televisions and expensive sports cars, or even the right job and career and baby. I thought love was beyond grasping. I thought I was safe because I had rejected the material life and searched for meaning in my relationships and my work. And love is beyond grasping, but only if it's real love. Real love requires a wellspring of strength and respect and devotion from inside of you, that is created only when you can forgive yourself, know your limitations and your endless capabilities, and when you draw your own boundaries of respect for yourself from that same place. Real love is when you do things simply for the sake of doing them.

Everything that is not real love is grasping.

Everything that is done in expectation of a particular response, or even any response, from another person is grasping. Saying "I love you," and hoping to hear it back is grasping; saying angry things in hopes of hearing an apology is grasping; getting into a relationship because you want a relationship rather than because you want to devote yourself to that person is grasping. Going to college to get a degree is grasping, and so is writing in order to get published. And when you are grasping, nothing will ever, ever, ever be enough. Even if you get what you want, which you usually won't, you will just find something else to grasp towards.

I say all of these things not because I know better, or speak from a position of superiority, but because I have done all of these things, and I still have trouble separating out what is real love and what is grasping. I have started to practice, but I'm still working on mastering the basic scales of real love. One of the things that helps me sort it all out is to write about it, and get feedback from the people who love me enough to criticize me.

I think that phone call was made with real love. I think we both had only affection and respect towards each other. But now I must be careful, and stick to the boundaries I have made for myself out of that place of real love, and watch out for the tendency toward grasping. It is easy to fill my holes with things that other people have, but they never fit quite as well as the things that I fashion for myself*. And lastly, I must forgive myself for failing, because I will fail, but also there will be successes. Everything is all right.

*In an attempt to circumvent EVERYONE who will make this joke...that's what she said. Now shut up and read the post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reason # 16 Why I'm Reconsidering Grad School

I'd get to do stuff like this.


I Have a New Attitude

Sometimes I forget the reasons I do what I'm doing.
Sometimes I forget why it is that I get up at five-thirty in the morning and work a job I'm, at best, ambivalent about for nine hours a day, five days a week.
Sometimes, especially the times I don't have time to make coffee and hang out with the cat and read a book before I run out the door to work, and most especially the times that I do have time to make coffee and end up looking at pictures of my friend's safari in Kenya where she saw leopards, lions, gazelle, baby rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and the Great Rift Valley where all life on earth originated, and it's raining on an African plain and she's all smiling happily with her husband and her freakin perfect marriage and her fluency in Arabic and her stupidly awesome Fulbright scholarship to get her masters in Cairo, Egypt, right before I have to go into work and sit at a cubicle and adhere to a dress code--well, those times are the times I want to fall to my knees and cry, "Why, God?! Why?! What did I do wrong? What terrible decisions did I make that put me here instead of on a happy little safari in Kenya?*"

Then I find this.

Somehow Elizabeth Gilbert and her sage advice seem to show up exactly on time, whenever I need them.

*What I actually do is call my grandmother on the way to work, and she says remarkably sage things as well, like "Firstly, you're not supposed to be in Kenya right now, which is why you're not there, and secondly, you've been to France and Germany and England and Belgium and the Netherlands and Spain and to all but six states in the U.S. and you live in Arizona, so to some people you've done the equivalent of going to Kenya." And then I stop crying.