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

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the fear of success (subtitle: wtf?)

I spent a couple hours deep cleaning my home on Tuesday. It started with my desk, which needed dusting and de-cluttering so I could sit down and open my computer and build a simple, easy-to-find author bio website.

But then I noticed dust on my dresser and the bookshelf. Post-holiday dust. And dog hair under the desk. I got out the broom. Clean slate, I told myself. New year, clean room, clean mind.

Also, it turns out, there were tiny spots on the bathroom mirror from wiping the steam off. And the bathroom floor needed a sweep. Just this, I thought, but I definitely won’t clean the kitchen.

But when I went in the kitchen to get a rag, I saw ghosts of spills on the front of the dishwasher. Fingerprints on the refrigerator. The top of the plastic container that holds the dog’s food was kind of dingy.

Two hours later even Roscoe’s water bowl was gleaming but I was no closer to making the website. In fact, I think the website was the problem (or perhaps the solution, if you ask the dog). Making the website meant acknowledging that I was really doing this being-a-writer thing, and in a very public way.

For years people have suggested I submit to the Modern Love column in the New York Times. This suggestion made sense: if you write about love and love stories it’s pretty much the best place to get published. I mean, people get book deals after their stories run in Modern Love. But I resisted for lots of reasons: they don’t use pseudonyms (not even versions of your own name, like I use), it’s a high-profile place to broadcast one’s personal affairs, and the word count seemed like such an awkward length. And it’s super competitive—they get something like ten thousand submissions a year.

Well, the word count is awkward, but they’re publishing my essay this Sunday. And I am terrified.

I’m also thrilled. I got the email from the editor Dan Jones while making Christmas dinner with my mom’s family and I just started screaming right there in the kitchen, “Mom! New York Times! New York Times!” But once the reality of publishing in the column set in, I started feeling weird. And then I started cleaning.

(And Googling myself several times a day to see if my new website would pop up in time for publication. This is something I don’t recommend.)

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This is from the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Taken July 29, the night I wrote about in the column. There’s some irony in here somewhere.

The other day I was talking to some friends about those times in life when you get separated from yourself and then, a bit later, you find yourself again and things suddenly come into focus. When I started this blog I didn’t have many reliable bearings. I wanted to write a book but had no idea how to go about it. I’d just gotten Canadian Permanent Residency and promptly moved out of the house I shared with my ex and into a new apartment. I was investing in my life in Vancouver—only without the person I came with.
I eventually figured out that I needed to do two things to be happy: write regularly and find some friends who liked rock climbing or going to breweries. And my life started to come into focus. Continue reading

an attempt at an honest and unsentimental discussion of breaking up

Last weekend I came across a quotation I’d scribbled in my journal a few months ago:

We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily, we do not need to learn it.

Rilke’s “Requiem for a Friend” is about grieving the loss of a friend, not romantic love, but I’m pretty sure romantic love was what I’d had in mind.

When I wrote it down, my own on-again-off-again relationship was in a precarious position: back on. Being on after being off is scary. Mostly because you know what off is like. Off is terrible. It’s that raw state of constant low-level self pity that, in certain desperate moments, you would do anything to escape.

I’d spent the entire preceding month listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and tearing up–on the bus, or on my bike, or in Whole Foods–each time a character died or, on particularly hard days, whenever someone told Harry he had his mother’s eyes. I downloaded Adele’s latest album. And I spent one entire afternoon searching youtube for covers of “Someone Like You.”

But after some self-pep-talking, I went on a few dates with smart, funny guys who had good taste in beer. I was making progress with off. Did I really want to risk returning to the old relationship? If it still didn’t work, I’d be starting all over, back at The Philosopher’s Stone. I couldn’t return to being the girl who wandered around the pastry counter with her bike helmet on and her earbuds in, desperately clutching a soft pretzel while dabbing recycled-paper napkins at the corners of her eyes. That’s why I wrote down the Rilke quotation. If I was going to go back to on, I needed to prepare for the risks involved.

Most of us expect love to make us happy, and neuro-chemically speaking, it does, at least initially. (Radiolab has a pretty entertaining podcast on this very topic.) And we Americans love happiness. The pursuit of it, after all, is not only an unalienable right guaranteed by our Declaration of Independence, but it is also the promise of our fairy tales.

When my parents split up a few years ago, they offered little more explanation than to say, “We’re not happy.” It was a hard argument to counter. Didn’t I want them to be happy? But, for the first few days at least, I was furious. Their separation had come as such a shock to me; I’d sensed no unhappiness from my life three-thousand miles away. I was sure the real problem was that they weren’t trying hard enough. They’d given up. And if my parents had taught me anything, it was that quitters never win. Continue reading