Thursday, November 18, 2010

this must be the place (naive melody)

I just woke up from the most excellent dream. It's hanging in the air, still. As gently as possible, and while I can, I’m going to extract its essence and bottle it. A gift hanging in the air, yes, waiting for me to unwrap it. A lucky feeling. I'm staying nearly motionless, like there’s some butterfly next to me who’s going to whisper this whole thing to me if I play my cards right.

I’m with you, butterfly. You lead.

The dream (and it’s not about the specifics of the dream, that’s not the gift):

Walking up the main drag of my childhood (and current) neighborhood, with a couple of dear male friends from college. One an ex, one my old best friend. We’re walking home from a reunion. Or maybe the walking home is the reunion.

It’s odd, at first. Upsetting. My old best friend and I are chatting away, lots of jokes, it’s wonderful. My ex, on the other hand, is rudely, aggressively monosyllabic at best. It’s an active shunning, impossible to avoid noting. Eventually, I get mad and start swinging right into it. Calling him out. Mocking him for his rudeness, insulting him. It feels horribly good. What the hell, right? Might as well! Let him have it. He deserves it. It’s miles better than just taking it.

We arrive at the heart of the neighborhood, a few blocks away from my house, and it’s time for us all to part company. I’ll be walking alone back up to my house, the rest of the group (yes, a group converged, there was a group eventually) will be heading the other way.

Suddenly my ex blossoms into a completely different presence. “Hold on,” he says. “I’ll walk you home.” Warm, soft, tender, smiling.

“Oh. Okay.”

Poof. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and there’s no trace of anger in the air. The metamorphosis is instantly, cellularly thorough. You can’t even call it forgiveness, there’s no time. It’s transformation.

The atmosphere in the dream shifts, and it’s in here, in the atmosphere, that the gift of the dream resides. I’ve lived this atmosphere in real life, just so briefly, but it’s a real thing, it can cross into our waking plane. I’ll come back to that.

So we begin to walk up the hill, arm in arm or somehow touching, and what the conversation does is this: it takes the time in between college and now, and sweeps it clean of any trace of bitterness or anxiety. It says, You are well-thought-of. You're remembered with sweetness. That really happened. Something still remains, never left. You cleared the plates long ago, from shame, but you didn’t need to. The nourishment from that meal is still there for the taking, even if you’re sitting at the table by yourself. There's no need for shame.

I don't know if I'm well-thought-of in his mind, or remembered sweetly by him, but what's true now is that I'm remembered sweetly in my own mind. I'm thinking well of myself. An independent gift.

There’s something complex here, and this is where I have to stay very still to take the butterfly’s meaning. It’s to do with time, and the falseness inherent in time, and it has to do with that wonderful atmosphere, and so I’ll tell you about when I lived it in my real life.

When my husband proposed to me, we were on Balmoral Beach in Sydney. I’ve touched on that day here, so read that, that’s important, but I’ll tell you this here. Something ceased operating while we were there sitting in that glittering sand, and I think, I think it was time. You disagree, maybe. Maybe you think time can’t stop. But, okay, maybe you’re right. Time didn’t stop. I just stopped knowing about it. The concept fell away, and since that’s all it is, a concept, it stopped. Time does not exist in nature. Change exists in nature. Time doesn’t. No, it doesn’t. There’s no such thing as an hour in nature, or a minute. The earth moves, our cells change. Anyway, there we were, and I’d said yes, and I couldn’t feel the presence of anything bad anywhere in the world, or within me, or in my memory, or even as a possibility. What was in front of me, that was the whole world, and it was all benevolence. I didn’t have to worry about it slipping away. I didn’t have to catch it. There was nothing frantic. No memory, no planning, no hustling, no brooding. Bright stillness. I felt like I couldn’t possibly be on earth. This felt nothing like earth. It was a heaven world, with our houses and ferries and water and sand, our stage set.

Somewhere in here is the gift. There’s something we do to ourselves, something I do to myself, an application of unnecessary pain, and I think I can see that I can stop that now. The removal of pain is all we need for happiness, right? We don’t need anything added. I’m not talking about survival, I’m talking about happiness. There is nothing to add. There is nothing to get. All that’s necessary is the removal of pain, and most of that pain I give freely to my own self.

I don’t know how much farther back into the dream I need to go. It went on. Circumstances changed a little bit here and there as we made our way along, but the essential character of the dream remained the same. Warmth, love, kindness, respect. And there was a nice, hilariously neat metaphor or two: at one point, we realized we were carrying lots of bags, and we rearranged them, moved them out of the way, so we could be closer as we walked. It was raining, pouring, dumping, but it was never cold or uncomfortable, and even through the thickest, most active overlay of clouds, we could see the shape of the sun, and we noted it, how cool that was, what a neat trick.

And mind you, this closeness wasn’t FOR anything. It wasn’t building to anything. It felt possible that there would have been a kiss at the end of the journey, but all the satisfaction was right there in the present moment. The pleasure in the walking together was simple, and more than sufficient. Great fullness. No lack.

There was such a nice time, back in real life, in college, before this person and I began dating, where we were just friends. I remember so fondly the pleasure we took in each other’s company. One day we walked to a grocery store, and we each bought a few things, and we were silly in the aisles. I pretended like I was a crazy impulse shopper, and lunged at ridiculous items, while he steered or play-dragged me away. We were a little bit in love with each other already, but it would be a while before anything happened, we’d both date other people first, but right then, that day, those days, those days were perfect.

Eventually we did date, and then he broke my heart a little, and then months later we dated again, and it was more serious, and really wonderful. It was raining all the time, it felt like, a spring rain, a warm rain. We’d be up in his apartment, sitting on his bed, reading plays, and I can hear the Talking Heads singing “This Must Be The Place” overlaying this whole series of memories. We did listen to this song, and it was the right song, and everything felt just like that. I will say that was our anthem, because I’m writing this story, and I can.

And then some more time passed, or rather, things changed, and he broke my heart again, and though this was twenty years ago, I think it didn’t properly heal until I woke up this morning. Can you imagine? But it did heal, it just now has, and I didn’t even know I was still hurt. But I was, and I was carrying myself funny about it. Can you imagine? For twenty years, I’ve been holding myself funny to protect this wound, and now, as of this morning, November 18th, 2010*, I can stop.

*I can’t say it would have exactly been comforting if someone had whispered to me back in 1990 when I was so upset, “Don’t worry, Tina. It’ll all be better in November of 2010. We promise. But before then, don’t worry. You’ll get used to holding yourself in a funny protective position, you’ll get so you don’t even notice that you’re doing it, so you won’t know this was even a problem until it’s resolved.”

This is the funny position I was in, this is what I was doing, this is the pain I was adding to my own life unnecessarily. I’ll tell you. After things changed, and he appeared not to or didn’t love me any more, I took all of those nice memories and made them something shameful to enjoy. I took them away from myself. I figured it was like this: if he was going to take our future away from us, then I’d give us symmetry and remove our past. So, as beautiful as I found our time together, as sweet and important as it was to me, I decided that he didn’t matter, wasn’t that important. My mind would flash on the nice times, and I’d remember feeling humiliated later, and so I’d take what happened later and graft it onto the sweet part and ruin it, sour it, so I wouldn’t even want to look at it. I made him ridiculous, and myself ridiculous, and scattered something ugly, some kind of thought repellent/anaesthesia, over the whole span of time in between now and then and over both of us in relation to each other.

Maybe that wasn’t wrong to do, it made sense to do it at the time, like I was insulating myself from the painful idea that I was easy to discard, but now it makes me feel tenderly towards myself. I think I was operating under the assumption that there were security guards placed around those nice memories. And that was true, but I guess to make it effective, I decided that I didn’t hire them. That HE had hired them. “Keep that girl away from those memories! I don’t want to be seen with her! It’s embarrassing! Don’t you know that I dumped her? Ugh. Don’t let her into that apartment.” And I thought, my GOD. What a DICK. Who would DO that? He’s so callous!

But right, that was me. I did that. I sent that message to my very own self, all by myself. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t. (Well, maybe a tiny bit. When we broke up, he could have been generous enough to tell me that this had happened. But he didn’t or couldn’t and ultimately it doesn’t matter in the slightest. ) All he did, really, was change, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. What could be wrong with that? I didn’t suddenly grow fangs or warts or a hump. Something and someone else became, for him, more beautiful. I didn’t become less beautiful. Things changed in relation to each other. The sequence of events didn’t ruin anything. Things just changed position.

November 18th, 2010. In today’s news, it has been announced that when things fall away, they take only themselves with them. Anything else that is stripped, we strip, and we may stop.

And now, two versions, both important. The one we really listened to, and the live version:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

sartorialism, bespoke

If you haven’t been to the wonderland that is The Sartorialist, go there first, quickly, before you read this. Spend a few minutes. You might not have any reaction, but maybe you will. If you already know and love The Sartorialist, stay with me, because chances are you might never come back and read this essay if you don’t. You’ll fall down a rabbit hole masquerading as an alleyway in Milan, tumbling after some impossibly cool old man in oxfords and anklets, with the hem of his trousers rolled just so. (These old Italians all dare to eat a peach.) Or you’ll fall into a pretty dungeon of despair/envy/desire when you see some mile-long gazelle of a girl in modern, sky high heels, leaning against what was an ugly, nothing wall until she was juxtaposed against it. Slightly wrinkled trench coat, topknot, sleek legs, only the barest hint of elegant tension beneath her languid posture…oof. It creates this longing that makes me think of theater; what she has going on in that moment is almost completely ephemeral. Some elements may remain for a remount: shoes purchasable here, trench there, hair, well, you have some or you don’t. But the rest you can never have, and you’re just lucky or unlucky to have seen it, depending on how you carry that 10 ounce glass of water with the five ounces of water in it.

Aspirational, that’s the word for that site. I frankly love the tension The Sartorialist sets off in me, my glass blinking from half-full to half-empty by the moment. Possibility! Impossibility. Possibility! Not every last photograph is of some paragon of physical beauty – you’ve got young people, old people, thin people, fat…old men - but every single one shows us someone who has absorbed/created/lucked into a sense of style, and that is mostly, largely, maybe? almost? democratic. You can cultivate one. It’s available to you. You might be tone-deaf, but everyone who cares to do it can probably struggle out a real sense of style.

Or not. And those who can’t are left with fashion. But I don’t want to talk about fashion. Fashion, apart from style, is something tinny and temporary and quickly embarrassing. It requires no thought on the part of the wearer, only a kind of pitiful trust that he or she is being handed the right information. Fashion without innate style is that good-looking (or not) kid who heads to Hollywood and is dying to be a famous actor but doesn’t have any talent, whose only hope is a gargantuan dedication to craft. Dubious. That actor who’s not exactly bad, who’s hitting the marks and all, but you just don’t give a shit. Styleless fashion. Nothing gives a sadder, more desperate feeling, sartorially, than that. Especially with the wrong information. You know what I’m talking about.

(And you’ve got the segment of the population who don’t care about style AND don’t care about fashion. Carry on, wizards. Stay warm and dry in the winter and cool and comfortable in the summer.)

Let me digress a little. I have a mild, vague obsession with French culture. (Can you have a mild, vague obsession? I think I figured out how to do it; see me for tips if you’re interested.) Parisian culture, maybe, in particular. I spent one day and one night in Paris almost a decade ago. I’d looked forward to going there all my life, nearly maniacally. I’d have dreams about it, and since I’m always fooled by my dreams, I’d invariably think, “My god! Mon dieu! The day has come! Finally, it’s not a dream! I’m really in Paris this time! All those other times – dreams! But not this time! Hurray!” and then a giant deck of cards would walk into the room and I’d think, “Paris is not quite what I expected, but it’s great to be here. Great…to be here.” And then I’d disappear up into a skylight and continue the dream in Ohio or what have you. My point is that I’d always looked forward to the challenge of Paris. I was intrigued by the idea that it didn’t come easily for visitors, that there was an intricate code to learn, some intuitive and some counterintuitive tricks for comporting yourself in such a way as to make the city fall open for you. (I hadn’t considered the option that it might also be okay if Parisians didn’t like you.) (Me.) And one of the most obvious things you had to do when you got to Paris was dress well, but that wasn’t enough, either. You had to dress with style, because the Parisians THROW DOWN.

So how did it go?

Yes, well. Since I’d been overly excited, I hadn’t slept for one minute the night before, and arrived with a huge headache. So, a good chunk of time was lost sleeping and then taking a bath with my sunglasses on. And then we went out to dinner and then I got to spend a few hours back in the hotel room throwing up some bad tuna. (“Paris! Pinch me! Am I dreaming?!”) Then the people at the front desk denied to my boyfriend’s face the very existence of mint tea in the whole world. (“Ma’am, I’m afraid that you’re wide awake.”) Montmartre was delightful, the next day. I spoke French successfully in a bookshop, to a taxi driver and in a perfume shop. OH! And on the train from London to Paris, I was in the bathroom when they were collecting tickets or checking passports or something. They knocked on the door and I said, “Un moment” and the ticket taker/passport checker said, “Elle est Français.” !!! I practically started singing the Marseillaise. Anyway, they couldn’t see me or they wouldn’t have made that much-treasured mistake. I did my best but I was not, I could tell, able to dress myself to Parisian standards. I really only took two outfits on the town:

1) 1. Dinner (and then vomiting)

A navy v-neck t-shirt, gathered in the front with a little patch of red paillettes, atop a navy pinstripe a-line skirt, with modern-looking black flats.

2) 2. Montmartre, next day (aka “The nice part”)

A risk-free ensemble of white button-up shirt, black trousers, the aforementioned black flats and the sunglasses from the bathtub.

Neither here nor there, ultimately, and no heels = not good enough. It just wasn’t good enough. I could feel it. It didn’t risk enough or express enough or…who cares, right? Who cares what I wore in this one part of the world over the course of slightly more than 24 hours almost ten years ago? I DO.

I do, I care, because it’s to do with nuance, and I love nuance, and consequently hate missing nuance. It’s so aggravating. I wanted to nail it and I didn’t nail it. So Paris is still hanging there, unconquered, and therefore it remains this vague obsession, and so we’re back to The Sartorialist. The pictures I examine most keenly from his site are the ones, obviously, from Paris, but it doesn’t matter, really. The whole question of style and nuance dangles there in every photograph, which begs the question of my own style, and just what in the hell that is, and what it’s for, and why it matters, because it does matter. It’s not enough that the clothing flatter my figure and my coloring. We all want to be found beautiful, that’s basic. And it’s nice to be accepted, to be thought cool. But the ultimate – for me, at least - is to be known, and if you really want to be known, then you leave as many breadcrumbs as possible for the people taking you in, pointing as much as you can to something ineffable. It’s art, and even if you miss the mark you’ve set out for, you will at least have hit something.


Cross-posted from Writing, Writer, Writest.