Love in a time of declining democracy (or how do you promote a book?)

Last semester was hectic. I was teaching two new classes (both on love!), so there was tons of reading to do, and daily prep work. Between bouts of marking papers, I was finishing the final rounds (rounds, plural–so many rounds!) of edits for my book. As I got dressed in the mornings, I listened to the news with a mix of hope and dread.

I spent some days feeling like a total boss who was doing cool things in a perfectly capable way and then finding myself overcome by the sudden onset of rage and despair. This despair typically emerged from listening to one of those news segments where journalists interviewed “real voters” on “the issues they care about” and I wondered–again and again–at the media’s willingness to let people make racist or xenophobic comments on air as if these were sensible concerns that deserved the same airtime as other voters’ fears about losing their healthcare.

I kept thinking, January will be better. In January the news cycle would die down. I’d be fully prepared for all my classes. The edits would be complete. In January I would sleep in more often. I’d get back to Wednesday nights at the climbing gym and the brewery. I’d read all the books that were stacking up on my kitchen table! 2017 was a beautiful utopic time when I’d write tons of blog posts!

You see where this is going.

But, as I wrote on Instagram, the end of 2016 had the useful effect of putting some things into perspective. Continue reading

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On anniversaries

“Are you disappointed?” he said, as we heaped pineapple fried rice onto our plates. “Do you feel like this is not special enough?”

My partner and I celebrated our first relationship anniversary last weekend. I’d never celebrated an anniversary before, and, while it did not feel particularly special to be sitting at my kitchen table in yoga pants eating Thai food, I wasn’t sure that I really cared about specialness. “What’s really the point of an anniversary anyway?” I asked through a mouthful of pad see ew, “To say we managed not to break up this year?”

“No. It’s like: ‘Hey, you’re special to me. Let’s celebrate this thing we created,'” he said.

It’s not that I needed him to defend the idea of an anniversary to me (though I appreciated his willingness to do so), it’s that sometimes I feel it’s my job to maintain skepticism when it comes to the rituals we associate with romance. We all seem to have a lot of ideas about what you’re supposed to say or do in love and these ideas have the power to make us feel either smug or inadequate–or, absurdly, both at once. And I just wanted to tread thoughtfully toward the anniversary celebration.

“I think I should write something about anniversaries,” I said. “People don’t really talk about how weird they are.”

“Are you gonna write about this?” my partner asked, glancing around at the takeout containers propped between haphazard stacks of books. Continue reading

I went as Minnie Mouse and other Halloween confessions

“How was your Halloween weekend?” one of my students asked yesterday. I replied that it was great, and then he asked if I wore a costume, and what it was. The answer was simple but, somehow unprepared for such a question, I turned bright red, stammered that I bought a pair of ears at the dollar store across the street, and then I quickly changed the subject.

I have always worn my embarrassment publicly in the form of immediately and fully flushed cheeks (and ears and neck and chest). In middle school, my classmates made a game of trying to make me go red. Adulthood has, thankfully, made these occurrences less common, but it still happens in front of a classroom at least once a semester. It’s unpredictable and awful—and I have learned, in the eight years I’ve been teaching, that the best thing to do is to just keep talking.

I woke up this morning and saw my mouse ears hanging on the radiator and wondered what it was about the phrase, “I was Minnie Mouse” that seemed so impossible to confess to a classroom of eighteen year olds.

photo

the handsomest, saddest Halloween dog.

The truth about my weekend is that I spent a significant portion of it thinking and talking about the space between loving someone and being in love with someone, and how, exactly, one can traverse that space. And one of those conversations took place in a bar very late at night while totally intoxicated and wearing Minnie Mouse ears. And maybe it was that—maybe it was the disjunction between chugging PBR by the Skytrain station on Saturday night and assigning a research paper on Monday afternoon.

Maybe, in that moment, naming the costume felt equivalent to confessing the whole thing: how happy I was all weekend and how strange it is to sit in an almost-empty bar and say to the person across from you, “I totally love you but I am a little bit terrified at the prospect of being in love with you.”

I have written before about the limits of the language of love. Our love vocabulary isn’t quite adequate for discussing all the ways we can be deeply invested in one another, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s call loving someone ‘friendship,’ and being in love with someone ‘romance.’

As far as I can tell, you can get to a romantic relationship either way—you can love someone first and then fall in love with them, moving from friendship to romance. Or you can do what I think most people do, which is to pursue someone as a romantic partner first and hope a friendship develops. But you have to have both, I think–friendship and romance–to create something durable. Continue reading

the problem of voice

My friend Duffy said to me, “I was reading your blog on the bus and a funny thing happend. I knew it was you. But I realized it didn’t sound like you.”

What did it sound like? According to Duffy, like my thoughts were hijacked by Marcia Brady. ugh.

After asking if I hated him (no), and then buying me a beer, he agreed that voice, when it comes to blogging, is kind of a hard thing to get right. The thing is, you want to seem approachable–likeable–not literary. (At this point, if I were grading this blog entry, I would say to my student “by ‘you,’ don’t you mean ‘I’?”)

But I should know–because I tell my students this–that voice evolves over time. That the attempt to sound like something–like, say, a blogger–wears itself out, and then you just sound like yourself. I spent a year of grad school trying to sound like Joan Didion, but instead of sharp and insightful, my voice sounded affectedly jaded, which might be the opposite of my natural voice.

So now I’m aiming for Jan. She was my favorite Brady anyway.

(the fourth Brady sister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something about how this started

I have this theory that most love stories actually do a terrible job of preparing us for the business of being in a romantic relationship. But despite this, we still love love stories. We tell them all the time. We hold them up to the light next to our own relationships.

I love love stories. Personal experiences, family histories, fairy tales, cheesy romantic comedies–you tell it, I’ll listen. Cue up a Julia Roberts movie and I’m the one sitting beside you on the trans-Atlantic flight, glancing surreptitiously at your iPad and pretending my red, puffy eyes are the result of cabin pressure and a pretzel allergy.

I once worked at a writing center with a Joan Didion quote on the wall that read, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” I’d been writing essays about rock climbing, or caffeine, or medieval martyrs, but somehow each piece snuck back around to this one fact: I fell in love.

Every day I looked at that quote and I grew increasingly worried about what it might mean for me. Love scares the crap out of me, but somehow I’d spent my life wanting it. If I didn’t tackle it head-on, I might never stop writing about it. I was used to being good at things, but love? Love was too smart for me. It was the roadrunner and every time I tried to catch it, I threw myself off the cliff with the anvil. I wanted to know why love wasn’t easier. And why something that was a fundamental biological drive could feel so utterly unintuitive.

Well, I for one blame the messenger. Love stories, you’re in my sights.

One day, this will be a book. In the mean time, it’s a hot mess of Word documents, and, now, a blog!