Friday, January 29, 2010

Sad Day.

Of course it had to happen. And maybe he's glad it did. But it still makes me sad. Very. Like another one of the necessary voices is gone. (How many can we afford to lose?) As the obit says (NYT, "J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91"), paraphrasing Janet Malcolm's article for the New York Review of Books, "That the Glasses (and, by implication, their creator) were not at home in the world was the whole point...and it said as much about the world as about the kind of people who failed to get along there."

It feels like another goddam perfect day for bananafish.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Feel Bad About My Neck, Eyes, Cheeks,Knees, Etc.

Ever have one of those days when you wake up and look in the mirror and think, oh, man, I'm beautiful? Me neither.
Sometimes the right lighting might trick me into thinking that yes, I really do have but one chin, but then that lighting fades or someone turns it off and reality slaps me back into shape. Wait, 'shape', that's the wrong word. Just slaps, that's all.
A few years ago I suddenly realized my face was a souffle, and it had fallen. Someone carefully took me out of the oven and then banged the door shut - cooks, you know the sad result. And as I pushed my souffle-face back into a resemblance of self I thought Well, what now? Injections? Plastic? Prayer? Needles and novacaine or whatever they use? All the above? Charlotte and I have talked about this through the years and we constantly come up with this: We're not against it, not at all. We applaud it, especially when its admitted. We just, well, I don't know. We still love Georgia O'Keefe and Virginia Woolf. I didn't want Bette Davis eyes but I had them by 28, maybe earlier. Was I supposed to fix them then? If so then youth really is wasted on the young.
We, Charlotte and I, maybe we're crazy. We still think our wrinkles do not define us. We know that age can't really be erased. Some days I feel 68. Somedays I feel 25. Somedays, I get so brave there is no number attached. And those, without a doubt, are the best days of all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let's give. The other kind of love.

Leaping from romantic love to love of mankind...

Blogging, particularly about personal observations / feelings / thoughts, seems horribly self-indulgent these days. There just seems to be one thing out there that is urgent enough to actually say: Let's try to help the Haitians, and let's pray that the people that are actually attempting to distribute our help, can soon figure out how to do it given the chaos on the ground. Here are some ways to contribute:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Semper fidelis: The couples of Elliott Erwitt

I could go on and on and on and on. But somehow I think I won't. Suffice it to say, that in my marriage, all of those wonderful abstracts (safety, intimacy, respect) ebb and flow...but with a predictable tendency to return, and boy and when they do! We're not always even nice to each other...but that's us. We're still maturing, what can I say?

But the main reason, I am at a loss for words, is that Janet's last post featured one of my favorite images of all time, by one of my favorite photographers. And when pictures tell stories, it's often time to be quiet and just look. Elliott Erwitt faithfully (and I say that because of the constant heart with which he confronts the world through the lens) photographed a lot of couples in a lot of situations, and somehow always seemed to look at them with a hopeful, benevolent eye. They are not necessarily faithful to each other, but he was always faithful to them. I attach three of them here in what I consider a sort of Timeline of Love for further study. No further comment. —Charlotte

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marriage and Infidels: Part III

So a good marriage is what? I love how Charlotte said it was a metamorphosis, that her husband has changed before her eyes and she before his. And that she's glad she witnessed those changes; honored, even. And there's a chance she nourished that evolution. Allowed and enabled him to be the man he is now. Maybe they fertilized each other (is that too farm-y a word? Look, I live in Oregon) and without the other a quite different metamorphosis would have taken place. Something not quite as beautiful. And maybe the best way to stay married is to stay. If it's good, that is. If it's right. If it's real. But ah, there's that rub again.
None of us wants a marriage that's just X marks on a calendar, a prison term of required days. It's not a trap we absentmindedly stepped into. Most of us weren't actually forced into someone's devious clutches, were we? Even at the Little Chapel of Love in Vegas, we're usually somewhat awake. Whoever we were we stood up before God or Man or someone wearing something formal, we said some words we thought we meant, we made our girl friends wear dresses they didn't want to wear (taffeta, bows, knee length, emerald green) we paid for champagne or beer or cheap wine, we cried and ate cake and made people give us presents, lots of them, and again nobody forced us into this. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. I take you, whoever you are. Some of us made mistakes. Some of those mistakes turn out miraculously wonderful. Some don't.
Right now I'm sitting in a hotel in Santa Monica, working on a job away from home for three weeks, and I miss my husband already and I just got here. Reader, how sick is that. He is, absolutely and unequivocally, my best friend. We actually like each other. We actually love each other. There are still mysteries here, and we've been together for 19 years - what? 19? Who knew? And as I sit here almost watching 'Revolutionary Road' (a film you don't have to watch because you can literally hear it a hundred miles away) and its portrayal of a marriage I wouldn't want in ten thousand years, some thoughts on a good marriage come to mind. See if you agree:
Respect. Respecting each other's uniqueness, the way he's not you and you're not him, instead of vainly forcing the other into your mold of...'be this, be this dream in my head.'
Intimacy. The ability, and not just the wish, to reveal thoughts and ideas and truths you never thought you'd reveal to anyone. Having them caught, understood, acknowledged. Not laughed at. Not thrown back in your face during a fight. Not reduced or ridiculed.
Safety. Knowing that if you blow a gasket, or he blows his, no one will just walk out the door. Safety enough to hold you both when things go bad, money fades, jobs are lost, wrinkles grow, changes come.
Honesty. The ability to say 'Yes that does make your ass look fat' and 'I do kind of wish your ass wasn't so fat, but I love you anyway.' The ability to want to be better to the person you're spending your life with instead of worse. The way you don't take each other for granted all the time, because you know, eventually, time ends.
Wanting them in a way you still don't want another. Letting that want be heard, and met.
Gentleness. A great word.
Remembering the vow you took and knowing this was a choice you made, a choice all your own. He's not a pair of boots you can just return on a whim. She's not a chore you must endure. And if you made the wrong choice, then confess already. Work on it or change it, have the courage of your convictions, have some convictions at least. Not every marriage will work or last or go on for decades. Some, like cars and blind dates, run only for so long. So does that mean they're a failure? Or just ended on their due date?
And so back the to adultery/infidelity/infidel question: seriously, can you be unfaithful and still have a good marriage? If both sides know about it, no secrets, no lies, then I say yes. And good for you. But if it's a lie and something you do behind the other's back, then no. One of you has a marriage and the other has...convenience. One has a smorgasbord, an all-you-can-eat-buffet. And the other is on a lousy diet. Infidel, infidelity. Yes perhaps they are the same thing. - Janet

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I second that emotion.

Yep, yep, yep. Janet, you said it. Significant things are harder. And you said it exactly when I needed to hear it. Not that I was packing my bags and walking out the door, or even looking at younger men, I was just having one of those ho hum moments (which usually lasts about a week) in which I think: "So, this is it."

And that's part of the difficulty of monogamy too, really. Not a fight. Nothing big and shaky and earthquaky like a wild, woolly extramarital affair. But the "dark matter" of conjugal reality. That much-of-the-time stuff that binds you together and becomes, inevitably, kind of "so-what." A bit boring. Or, no, just a bit quotidian. The slogging through difficulty which doesn't ever seem to abate. Financial pressure. The other's way of dealing with the things that bug them, which in turn, bugs you. That stuff. The habits that never change. All the things that inspired my Mom to say that the best way to stay married was to live in houses next door to each other. But she got divorced.

I think it's more what Janet was saying. Sometimes the best way to stay married is to stay. Because the moment-that-lasts-a-week passes, the dark matter leads to a bright shiny star, and you see beside you the person you married, except somehow new and improved, because they stayed with you too. That's always the thing that amazes me. As hard as it sometimes is to stay with him, look everyone! he has stayed with me! And we love each other. A lot. More now than before.

And then there's this. As much as marriage may seem a stale affair, it's a growing, shifting beast more comfortable with geologic time then the minutes we count day to day. People do change and grow and experiment within its hold. You don't see it while it's happening, but sometimes you glimpse the results-in-progress, and it's very exciting. The man I married is not the man I'm married to now. But the one I'm with now is better than the one I chose, and he made that metamorphosis in front of my eyes. I feel honored to have witnessed it. I hope he's being gratified by similar changes in me.

NOTE: I have to add this. I don't think that in all cases staying married is the right thing to do. Nor do I think that all marriages are saved by "sticking with them." Nor do I mean to slam people whose marriages failed for serious reasons.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Infidelity v. Monogamy: A Love Story

Is ‘infidel’ the root of infidelity? I look at that word sitting there in all its faithless glory and wonder. And when opportunity knocks (a glance across a crowded room, the friend in the next cubicle you’ve always kind of had a crush on, two mouths meeting at a party, both imbibed and uninhibited, the handsome man in Fiction Aisle B at the neighborhood bookstore let’s say) do you really have to open the door?

Some people can be unfaithful again and again with a kind of weird reckless abandon, and still think it doesn’t ‘affect’ their relationship, although these same people seldom rush home and shout ‘I just slept with someone and it wasn’t you!’ so I suppose I can see their point; what your other half doesn’t know doesn’t hurt them. Or something like that.) Some people are categorically unfaithful yet think their spouse would never, ever be the same way towards them, which seems like wishful thinking at the very least. An in-elegant lie. Or a profound failure of imagination.

And then there are others who wouldn’t be unfaithful with their bodies no matter what. Their minds, maybe. Their dreams, sure. But not unfaithful in the way our culture defines it, no matter how many years pile up. No matter how difficult and rocky a relationship can be. No matter how it’s the honest truth that no one person can salve all your wounds, answer all your needs, fill the hole in your soul, be impossibly perfect and unremittingly fantastic always and forever, come what may. But I’ll throw something out there and say that that’s what friends are for. That’s what all our great intimacies are for, the friends and non-lovers who are there for us of both genders and nod, listen, agree, disagree, shake us up, think we’re crazy or mad and share their madness with us. Because the reality is – and Charlotte and I talk about this all the time – every relationship is a changing thing. Sometimes easy, sometimes unbearable, sometimes marvelous, sometimes weepily lousily awful, sometimes a little miraculous. Show me one that isn’t and I’ll show you one that it isn’t a relationship at all.

Living under the same roof with anyone (dogs, cats, birds not included) - spouse or friend, lover or family, child or partner – is difficult enough to make the poets bitch about it for centuries. And every time I think I’ve got life licked – the job or the kids, the marriage or the expectations, the friendships or the extended family – I realize again that all of this is a moving river. Some days it’s so smooth and glassy you just drift. Other times so tumultuous you'll certainly drown. It dries up till you’re walking on rocks. It brings storms. It turns beautiful. But it’s constant only in that it’s ceaseless; it's never rational nor logical and there is no GPS system so stop looking for it. At 14 you really want to believe in perfect endings and glass slippers and Nancy Meyers movies, but if you still believe in them at 26 or 38 or 44 or 51, then woe is you. Or actually: Whoa.

So anyway, fidelity. An article in the NY Times showed that for men who cheat, opportunity is far and away the number one factor. If the opportunity is there, no matter what she looks like, no matter how easy or hard or for how long, they (the ones inclined to wander) will take it. For women who stray, it wasn’t opportunity at all but the chance to feel more attractive, more appreciated or desired. But it made me wonder. These women are, by and large, with men who only see them as opportunity. Would they feel dejected by the truth? Or would it not matter at all? Does infidelity stop the river for awhile? Does it teach you how to swim, or at least hold your breath? It can be so easy to be unfaithful. Anyone can do it. Opportunity knocks everywhere you go. And being faithful to one person month after month, year after year, can be difficult sometimes, I suppose. But significant things usually are harder, aren't they? They mean more because they matter. And isn’t that the point? I mean really, isn’t that the point? - Janet