29 April 2009

Families and Secrets

Sometimes there are weird flare-ups in my family.
Something happens that seems incredibly important at that moment, but even two weeks later it's forgotten, or at the very least utterly unimportant.  Such a thing has just happened. For some reason, we've had an outbreak of secrets fever:  people telling them, people making them with other people and keeping them from other other people, people whispering furtively down phone lines or over skype.  Which leads me to muse upon secrets.

I believe in keeping secrets.  I have secrets, told to me by other people, that I have kept for years. I had one secret about myself that I kept for almost thirty years before I finally told my mother, and did keep for thirty years before I told my father. When it comes to other people's secrets, I observe a number of what I think of as very simple rules:

1.  If someone says, "Don't tell this to anyone," or, "This is a secret," I don't tell it to anyone.  ANYONE.

2.  If someone says, "Don't tell this to anyone," or, "This is a secret," I treat the entire conversation surrounding that utterance - everything that came before and everything that came after - as a secret.  As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to other people that conversation never happened.

3.  If you are discussing a sensitive subject over e-mail or via letter (two media in which I don't think one should discuss sensitive subjects, but sometimes you have to), anything beyond the most banal facts of life that is mentioned in the same e-mails or letters is also kept secret.

4.  If I don't know if it's a secret, but it's told to me when someone is alone with me, and it is something I would like kept private or think the other person might like kept private, I don't tell it.

5.  Some things - love lives, sexual lives, revelations of insecurity, conversations which are not about intimate things but nonetheless could be considered intimate (take place at night, involve disclosures about beliefs, hopes, worries...) - are automatically understood to be not to be repeated.

(I should say at this juncture that I do get it wrong.  People will tell me things that I don't recognise as such disclosures, and afterward - usually after I've shared them - they turn out to be.)

I am thus extremely surprised when people don't observe these rules; I always imagine that they will be understood by all sensible people.  My sister, for example, simply cannot keep a secret.  It is, in fact, well known in my family that you should never, ever tell her anything private or intimate, because she will blab it to everyone else.  What I didn't know until I was a grown-up, though, is that you can't tell my sister anything.  I mean anything:  if I told her even the most banal fact of my life, she would immediately tell my parents.  This would, logically, be a lesser offence than secret-telling, and it is, but I also think it's an important trait to know about, because it indicates to me that my sister simply doesn't think of anything as unimportant and not worth sharing.  Quotidian detail (I'm an English teacher, you know) or dark secret: she spills them all.  In the end, while my sister and I were speaking, this meant that I had to monitor nearly every word I said - because I didn't know what she might repeat or might not, I could only tell her those things I was sure I wanted my parents to know about. Given my mother's tendency to confront me with anything she's been told I've said or done that she feels is wrong, or that she feels I've represented to her differently, you can see how such conversations involved a good deal of care.

Anyway, in this case the teller of secrets is not my sister, but rather another family member - an aunt. And as I was privileged with this secret, and then participated in the secret agreement not to tell the person whose secret it is that I knew their secret, and then discovered from another family member that other secrets (which, by my rules, had clearly been marked as secrets) had not been understood to be secrets, and so had been revealed, I thought to myself, Surely all families are not like this?  Surely in other families family members don't tell family members secrets about each other, or pass on information with whispered urgings that it is entirely sub rosa?  Or share thoughts and opinions of each other with other family members, but not the member involved? (all of which have happened, one way and another, in my family).  And then I realised that of course they do.  This is how families manage!  Even in my family, when my sister and I had a difficult relationship we still had shared opinions of my mother that we would never share with her.  It is the nature of families, I suppose, to divide into sub-groups and dyads, and to confide within those sub-groups and dyads.

Meanwhile, in other news, at the milonga last night I practised giving more presence and weight, and, since I was dancing with someone near my height, as a result I ended up cheek to cheek with my partner.  This cheek was male; it had stubble; it was resting against mine.  But, dearest reader, it turns out all cheeks are not created equal.  Some cheeks make you feel happy, and some cheeks just make your face itchy.
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28 April 2009

Heads Up

When I first started this blog, I wanted to call it, "God Is Dead, But My Hair is Perfect," a very funny comment someone once made with reference to the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy (scroll down to "philosophy, social criticism, and personality").  Unfortunately there was already a blog with that name.  So I went for Something for the Weekend, which had the benefit of being a good little allusion and a Divine Comedy reference.  But no one knows the phrase anymore, so they don't get the allusion.

All of which is to say:  I've changed the name of this blog.  Because, as it happens, I have the hair of the damned.  But I've kept the tag line, which is also a Divine Comedy reference - to "Something for the Weekend," as it happens.

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27 April 2009

Airing the Id

I'd like to begin by saying how much I love my new bra: I really love my new bra.  It's so cute! And it makes me so happy!  So I love it.

Now, on to less pleasant emotings.  Last night I brought M.S. to tango class. I did this specifically to please someone in the class who has been very kind to me.  When I was dancing around the room with my friend B., he said to me, "I see you brought M.S."  (He knows her vaguely, I believe.)  I said, "Yes; it was requested."  And he said, "I wish I'd made that request."

You know what, dude?  Fuck you.  You're dancing with me.  Why don't I just get out my t-shirt that says, "I am the woman over whose shoulder men look at other women," and wear it around Cambridge?  At least that way it'll be clear to everyone, not just me.  I know you don't find me attractive - I'm not an idiot - but do you have to make it quite so obvious?  I don't find you attractive, either, as it happens, but I don't spend my goddamn time telling you about other men in the room that I find hot.

This is my whole fucking life, you know that?  My whole fucking life since I was maybe 18 men have been telling me about other women they find attractive, and why they find them attractive, and what it is that it takes for a woman to be attractive, and after maybe the first five times I think to myself, I am sitting across the table from you, and you must see that I'm a woman.  Clearly, I am for you so empty of attractiveness that you just think of me as another man.  Or when they say things like, "In order for a woman to be really attractive she has to be pretty, but she has to have a great personality, too," I think, Well, the fact that you're telling me this makes it plain that you don't think I'm attractive, so either I don't have a good personality or I'm not pretty, or both.  Good to know.

I get it:  I'm easy to talk to.  I'm not gonna judge you, and I'm sympathetic (and, in this case, you're all too young for me, anyway).  Yes, I'm flattered by that.  But frankly I'd be a fuck of a lot more flattered if someone leaned over and kissed me (not you guys, but someone - hell, I'd be pretty flattered if it were one of you guys), and barring that I'd be more flattered if you could put in my beggar's bowl the small change of not treating me completely like one of the guys.  I get it:  you find a girl hot, and you want to tell someone; and you want to tell a woman, because a woman can give you better advice about how to deal with women.  Reasonable enough.  But all the time? And any girl?  It's boring.  And it's insulting.

Let me give you a partial list of men whom I find sexy:  Johnny Depp; Will Smith; David Tennant; Hugh Jackman; James McAvoy; Roman Abramovich; Ronan Keating; Fernando Torres; Miroslav Klose; Owen Wilson; that guy who showed up at tango last week; that guy who showed up on Saturday; that other guy who showed up; that guy who dances so beautifully; Martin Kemp; Jose Mourinho; Daniel Radcliffe; Shia LeBouef; that guy over your shoulder, yeah, that one right there; that guy over your other shoulder; that guy we just passed on the street, that guy who sits in  the clubroom all the time.  Your best friend.  That guy who sometimes sits next to you at lunch.  Let me give you a partial list of the men I've imagined having sex with:  every man I've ever met.  But have I ever burdened you with this information, unbidden?  I have not.  What the fuck makes you think I want to hear your desultory ramblings about the various women you desire?  Heads up:  you and your sexual flotsam and jetsam are not that interesting.  Here's a news flash: I've speculated on the size of your penis. And some of you did not come out well. Did you really want to know that? I didn't think so.  So maybe we shouldn't share everything.

And I'll tell you something else:  if I did want to fuck you, that desire is dying with every tactless hotness comment you utter. And since apparently getting your leg over is very important to you, you might want to consider that the next time you open your mouth extraneously, or for the fiftieth fucking time, to detail to me how fantastic some other girl is.  

Does M.S. bake cakes for no reason?  Does she listen carefully when you talk about stuff she finds tedious?  Can she explain other people to you? Does she make her own clothes?  Can she make some for you?  If you're scared, or insecure, will she tell you she understands and make you feel better?  If you're sad, will she pet you?  In a situation where she could potentially be hysterically unhappy, will she instead back out with grace and dignity?  Will she iron your shirts because it gives her pleasure?  Will she tell you you're handsome just because you are, and you deserve to hear it?  Can she whip together a dinner party for 18, with tango to follow? Can she explicate the poems of Percy Shelley and explain what the hell Waiting for Godot is about?  Will she give you a back massage after football?  Will she commiserate with you when you try to puzzle out the universe?  Does she know how to make a flower out of a gum wrapper?  Can she hook her leg over her shoulder?  Will she let you jerk her (or drag her, or bully her) around a tango floor and never say a word about it, because she knows you're still learning, and you need to have your tender ego boosted?  Is she witty enough to make you laugh at dinner every night?  Once she decides to be your friend, does she stick with you through everything, forgiving the stuff she doesn't like?

I'm guessing the answer to those questions is no.  So maybe before you go yammering to one woman about another woman who's fabulous, you want to check the relative fabulousness of the women involved.

I am tired of being the woman every man likes but no man loves, and I am tired of having my face rubbed in the fact that I am that.  I can't change the first, but maybe I can get something done about the second.  Shut the fuck up.  It's enough.  Use some goddamn tact, and if you haven't got any look it up amidst the boring fucking youtube videos you love so much and learn it.

And don't you dare tell me that I should cheer up, or value myself more highly, or that if I acted less approachable, or less kind, maybe men would think of me more as a sexual being.  The purpose of this post is not to be made to feel better, or to learn how to attract men, or even really to change the behaviour of the men I know.  The purpose of this post is to vent, and to finally have my say.  And my say, right now, is, Shut your mouth, you tactless, thoughtless, self-centred cunts.

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26 April 2009


This is Neville's Court, in Trinity College:  It's a beautiful court, three sides of a wide and gracious square.  On sunny days it's glorious, and even on cloudy days it makes my heart open.

It's one of my aims and hopes, before I return to the States, to tango all the way around Neville's Court.  And I want to be filmed doing it, so I can preserve it forever.

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A Short Post about Love

Apropos of a conversation I had last night, I attempted to find out the price of a blow job by using the internet.  Using basic logic, I typed into Google, "how much does a blow job cost" (I sometimes worry that the police will confiscate my computer for some reason: my search requests suggest a bizarre and unsettling group of preoccupations on my part, and in a police search I fear I would come off very badly indeed.  But that's a story for another day).  Well, it turns out that the price of a blow job varies widely, and not just from level of prostitute to level of prostitute.  In Los Angeles, apparently, prices start
at $300!! (I wonder if Hugh Grant paid by credit card? Does he carry that much cash?)  Whereas in Glasgow, according to a website, a man got one for £7.50 by bargaining down from £10.  Who bargains down to £7.50 for a blow job?  First of all, even at £10 you gotta question the quality of the workmanship.  But £7.50?  You have to scrabble awkwardly round for the 50p, or ask your mates, which would be rather odd.  On the other hand, if you are a man who bargains a prostitute down from £10, pays £7.50 for a blow job, and then tells your friends that tale with pride (which is how it got on the web in the first place), I suspect asking your friend for 50p to make up the price is not a problem.  Which part of that story is most vile?

I know:  not the way you expected a post about love to begin.  But there you are.

ANYhoo, the point of this post is to reflect on the sad deficiency of the English language when it comes to love.  Indeed, there is a sad deficiency in most languages.  Spanish has two forms of love, "quiero" and "amo," I know, and one of those is for friends, while the other is for lovers (and sometimes family).  That's a good start, because in English you can get into horrible trouble telling people you love them:  the best we can manage is "love" and "in love," and even there the difference can apply to romantic love as well as what one might call amicable love (love for a friend). 

Umberto Eco has an essay in which he discusses the inadequacies of the expression, "I love you," arguing that its overuse has made it nebulous.  When we mean "I love you," as in "I love you romantically," he says, we should perhaps say something like, "As a Barbara Cartland novel would say, 'I love you.'"  But even that wouldn't cover it for me.  Here are some kinds of "I love you" that I think we should have separate words for:

  • I love you as a friend. (this one is obvious)
  • Your selfhood delights me.  That is, your unique "you-ness" gives me immense pleasure.
  • You have increased my pleasure in an already-pleasurable experience (this one is rather odd, because the love here is not really for the person, but rather for the increase in pleasure.  So you love them as a facilitator.  Hmmm).
  • You make me laugh.
  • It makes me immensely happy to be with you.
  • I love performing this specific activity with you.
  • You make me want to nuzzle you.
  • I want to kiss you (not friendly kissing, but not anything more than kissing).
Then I think we ought to have separate words for all the sensuous pleasures, so that "I love the way this smells," and, "I love the way this tastes" would have their own separate words.  And I also think we should separate words for increasing levels of love, so that "I love this," and, "I really love this" would get different words.

As it is, all we have at the moment is expressive phonology, so that if we want to tell someone we love them romantically, we say, "I love you," but if we want to tell someone that their unique selfhood gives us delight, we have to say something like, "I LOVE you."  Let down by language yet again!

So let's see...What if friend love were "frove"?  "I frove you, man!"  And what if the smelling one were "smove"?  "I smove that," or, "I smove you."  But the unique pleasure one is tougher - there doesn't seem to be a way to add letters to love to express that:  "I yove you"?  You sound like a crazy baby-talker.  "I enove you"? (enjoy+love)  You sound like you're mispronouncing, "I enough you."  

I see I have some work to do here.

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Doings of It

I meant to write a solemn post about the state of my life, and I still will, but who wants to write about the state of their life when they could write about...sex?  But I'm off out to lunch in a short while, so we'll have to make this a quickie.  Hahahahahahahahahaha!

I've been musing about sex quite a bit lately.  I've been writing a paper about Lord Byron's sexuality, which is the prompt for the most recent extended bout of musing and for this entry - sorry, post - but I was musing about it before, in any case.

Sex is a weird thing, no doubt about it (don't worry:  the intellectual level of this post will rise). I don't mean the actual act, although that's weird, too, if you view it objectively - someone, I can't remember who, said that if you stop and think about what you're doing while you're having sex, you're doomed.  But I mean that the desire for sex, and the workings of that desire, are very strange.

Attraction and desire would seem to be pretty straightforward feelings:  you find someone attractive, or you find them sexually desirable (not necessarily the same thing), 

attractive but not sexually desirable (not IN THIS PICTURE)

extremely sexually desirable (in this role)

and because you find them either attractive or sexually desirable, or both, you wish to engage in sex with them.  And that's certainly how it happens quite a lot of the time. But not all the time.  In addition to the positive reasons to participate in what my university friend K. used to call "doings of it," there are many negative ones (I'm not telling you anything new here, I know):  boredom, compulsion, insecurity, unhappiness, and rage.   It's the last two I find most surprising.  When Mr. Fallen let me go, and I was so angry and so sad, for a number of weeks I would find myself thinking, Who cares?  If this person I loved didn't want me, why should I care what I do with myself and my body?  If I can't have someone I want, why not just give it to whoever - the act won't matter if it's not with him, so why not have it be with just...anyone? Who gives a shit?

Of course I didn't give in to that feeling, because I'm a sensible girl (serial killers, yucky diseases, lack of conversation in the morning, embarrassment in front of yourself), and because, less practically and more emotionally, I don't want to have sex with "anyone."  But I was surprised to discover how strong that "Who cares?" feeling was, and how strong its potential to propel me into sex was, if I hadn't also been a sensible girl who knew her own emotions.

But I guess I find sex puzzling in other ways, too.  The sexual drive is so utterly divorced, in many ways, from the intellectual or emotional drive.  I know why that is, physiologically and evolutionarily, and because I believe people are basically animals, it doesn't distress me, or exactly surprise me, but it does fascinate me.  It's wonderful to be in love, and it's wonderful to have sex (well, it can be), but the desire to have sex does not hold itself in abeyance waiting for love.  Nor, indeed, purely on the level of physiological release, does level of love and knowledge of the other participant necessarily improve sex - particularly if you're a man, I think.  Which is why, when I stand outside of myself and humanity more generally, I find the concept of waiting to have sex until you're sure you love - or even like - the person somewhat odd.  In those cases, my thinking goes like this:  

You find the person attractive, and you know you want to have sex.  If you become attached to them and they to you, and you have sex with them, and the sex is bad, it's going to be quite painful, for both of you, to disengage from the relationship. If you wait to have sex until you know you like them, but it turns out you don't like them, you don't get to have sex at all. Whereas if you have sex with them before you're emotionally attached, and the sex is bad, at least you've gotten to have sex.  And if you have sex with them before you're emotionally attached, and turns out you don't like them enough to get emotionally attached...at least you've gotten to have sex.

And yet we do wait.  Logically, and in terms of instinctive drives, it would seem to make no sense, but in terms of emotions it certainly does.  I don't know...

This is what makes people so very interesting to me.  Yes, we are animals, but we've also got this magnificent phenomenon, the brain, that makes us something more than just animals.  But it also complicates everything, including things that might work more satisfactorily, at a purely animal level, if they were not so complicated.  It's fascinating.  Except for the times when it's just irritating.

Sex:  it's  weird thing, no doubt about it.
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24 April 2009


Twenty years of ballet and no damage to my feet except the occasional blister when I briefly took pointe....

Eight weeks of tango, and these are my feet:

And that's leaving out  my shins, which look as if they've been repeatedly beaten by tiny elves with heavy hammers.

On Thursday I had my tango lesson, and when I walked into the house, my VTTT was playing Bregovic!  Amazing.  At the end of the lesson I specially requested it, so we got to dance to "In the Death Car" for our last dance.  Lovely...

I must confess, I really like the VTTT and his wife:  he, in particular, has an excellent sense of humour.  On the way home from the lesson I occasionally imagine going over to their house for dinner with some interesting age-appropriate man they've managed to rustle up for me.  At the moment, though, they're having their patio repaved so they can dance on it, so I'll indulge in daydreams in which they have a giant tango party that I get to go to and dance with everyone. Well, all the good men.

Incidentally, the VTTT and his ETRSW live in a VSH, and I find this VFI.  Who made that choice, and how do they manage it?  

Take that, code-breakers!

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23 April 2009

Words!! You Gotta Love 'Em

My favourite words are:  "crisp," "fresh," and "boots," "goods," or any word of the same construction.  Those words induce in me a kind of delighted wriggling.  Close upon them, but not as strong, are "packet" and "luscious" (only if lovingly enunciated).

Conversely, there are words I despise.  I hate the word "tits":  oh, I hate it!  I hate the word "notion," with reference to sewing items.  I hate hate hate hate hate hate the word "panties."  I hate it so much I actually feel soiled for having written it.  And there are words I hate so much I won't let them cross my lips, or my keyboard.  They must remain forever loathed but unarticulated.

My mother, an English professor, told me once that she has no words she feels particularly one way or the other about.  Madness, in my opinion.

These days, because I have so many international friends, I am being exposed to words from all languages.  You already know my feelings about "puñalada," but you do not know that I really dislike the Spanish word "nunca."  In Latin, "nunc" means "now," but "nunca" means "never." This is totally illogical:  Spanish is a romance language!  So it galls me.

On the other hand, I love the German word "Notausgang." It just means "emergency exit," but it sounds so vital and concerning.  Similarly, I love "besonders," which means "especially" or "particularly," because I think it sounds like an expression of surprise:  "Besonders, John, we're late for dinner!" (admittedly, I knew and loved these two words before).  I love the Russian for yes, which I've heard a lot lately.  "Da" is so firm:  yes, and that's it.  And I love the Spanish for "clay in your hands":  "barro in tus manos."  Yum.  I love the Serbian for "planet," "planeta," largely because the stress falls on the penultimate syllable and the t is clearly articulated, so the words sounds nice and tidy.  And I love a Russian phrase I can't even remember - the phrase that means "to make love."  It's filled with soft z's, and I love it not exactly because of the way it sounds, nor because of what it means (because logically its sound-to-meaning ratio should drive me nuts:  it's rather long, and it seems an unnecessarily long phrase to mean, "make love"), but because it's long enough that you could say it as you run your hand from the base of someone's throat all the way down their body, and it would take up all the time - and also sound a little bit like the motion itself, with its soft swooshing.  So I like a phrase I can't remember, and couldn't pronounce even if I could remember it, because of its abstract erotic similarity.

Language:  it expresses so little in its meanings, but so much in its sounds.  And it tastes so good.

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A Shout-Out

I've just been skypeing with the fabulous S., and as our conversation wandered about (as our conversations tend to do), it wandered onto the path of his attractiveness.  I never can believe that S. is insecure, but he is.  So I thought, imagining that he might read this blog, that I'd put here on the large and forever blogosphere what I said to him over the skype...

I've known S. for nineteen-and-a-half years; it will be twenty this October.  And it is a complete truth to say that I've loved him all that time.  I've loved him in different ways, and with varying intensities, but I've always loved him (indeed, I loved him almost before I saw him -- but, funnily, the story of that is the one story of mine that defies written telling, and must be told face-to-face, verbally).  I think of him every day, at least once a day, and I think, truly, now I wouldn't know how to have a life without him.  I have loved him first more, and now more constantly, than anyone other man I have known.

So, S., if you're reading this, if you were my husband I would eat peanut butter for you every day, and not just over skype.  Spoon or no spoon:  your choice.

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20 April 2009

The Importance of Waiting

This afternoon, desperately trying to avoid some boring work, I IM'ed with a friend about the Spanish word for "stab": puñalada.  I think that word is too long and elegant to mean "stab," and I was discussing this with him.  The writing went as follows:

Me:       It's too long and elegant a word for what it means.

Him:   "puño" means fist in Spanish.

             "puñalada" means fisting.

Me:       Oh, my God, I didn't want to know that!! I didn't want to know it, 
              and now I can't unknow it!

Him:     [typing at the same time, so the words pop up one second after I 
               sent mine] 
              So puñalada means the gesture you make with your fist when you 
              stab someone.

Oh. That's all right, then.

And now here's a joke (not the octopus joke.  Otherwise...):

What did the Indian say while it was chasing the potato?
"When I catch you, I'm gonna scallop you."

My sister made that joke up when she was nine.  Not bad for a nine-year-old, I think you'll agree.

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In Which I Discover It Is Unwise to Contact One Who Left You for Another, Even if You No Longer Love Him, As It Stinks to Find Out He's Still With Her

The title says it all, I think.  Oops.

Actually, with a little more forethought I might have seen that one coming.

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Woah-oh, Listen to the Music

A man is on the treadmill in the gym for the next 25 minutes, so I'm filling in the time with this.

At the Saturday night milonga, the dj played a most extraordinary song:  
Goran Bregovic's "Hop Hop Hop."   Here is a photo of Goran Bregovic, both because Goran is one of my favourite names and because I think he's cute - not sexy cute, but cute as a button.

Now, I had never heard this piece of music before in my life (nor heard of this person), and it would not be inaccurate to say that it was as if a little explosion went off in my head when it came on. WHAT an awesome song. She played it as a milonga, but as you can hear from the clip, it really isn't a milonga; it's a kind of giant dixieland-jazz-gypsy-folk-music-ersatz-milonga-jamboree (for God's sake, it even has a balalaika in it!), and it's so unexpected in its melange of styles that it made me laugh.  But also, listen to that beat (supplied by a tuba, I'm guessing)!  What a demand to get up and wiggle your person! 

It is a truth that must be universally acknowledged that I, frankly, like to shake my ass.  When people find this out about me I always point out to them that I have quite a bit to shake, so it's only fair compensation.  Leaving largeness aside, however, it's still true that my favourite songs are those with very musical melodies or bits of melody, songs where the music really pushes you instinctively to react to it.  I think here not just of the magical "Temptation," written about with such devotion earlier in this blog, or "Por una Cabeza," loved because  of its sobbing violins and dramatically announced chorus, but also Depeche Mode's "Strangelove"  (ohmyGod, that's a great song) Arctic Monkeys' "Fluorescent Adolescent," and The Divine Comedy's (also-discussed) "Tonight We Fly," among countless others.  Those are songs that seem written specifically to call up a delighted (either fiercely or happily delighted) demand to dance in the body, and to dance in a specific way:  in order to dance correctly to "Hop Hop Hop" you have to wiggle either your shoulders or your butt around (by which I mean, in a circle) just a little bit, to capture the the rolling beat lurking underneath; in order to dance correctly to "Strangelove" you have to hold yourself tight and come down harder than you normally would; in order to dance correctly to "Fluorescent Adolescent" you have to hold yourself very loosely and let the foolishness of the music fling you about extravagantly.

The thing is, though, I find that all music is like this:  you can hear it telling you to speed up or slow down, to dance happily or unhappily, to stand close or far away (and if to stand close, to stand close as if you were melting into the other person, or simply to stand close so as to create one balanced unit), to contain yourself a little or to let yourself go.  That's part of what I meant when I said all those months ago that music tells you secrets.

Which is why I find it so interesting that some people cannot hear the music at all.  When the Bregovic song came on I was dancing with someone whose only response to it was, "This is weird; I don't know how to dance to this."  Okay, now that I think about it, those remarks suggest that he could hear the music - but only in a kind of rudimentary way.  And (God love him; it's not his fault) dancing to it with him was tooth-grindingly irritating, because there was I, wanting to get into the song and wiggle a bit, and there was he, plodding along stolidly, so I had to hold in all my desire with a kind of iron fist of determination (which is what it took). And I did that unkind thing you sometimes do (you know you sometimes do it) where you look over the shoulder of someone who's doing something in a way you don't like, find someone you know, and look at them, thinking, I know I'd be enjoying this way more if I were doing it with you (not that you necessarily would).  Which of course meant I wasn't really with him, which of course threw him off even more, which of course made the experience less pleasant.

Just to rip the seal off the confessional altogether, though, I've danced with this guy before, and he genuinely seems unable to feel the music in any way.  He can count a beat, but if the beat speeds up or slows down he loses it, or if it's hidden under a lot of colour or melody he can't find it at all.  For a long time, too, he couldn't tell when the end of a song was coming; he couldn't feel it coming (I found that fascinating, because it made me think about how one does know).  And, interestingly, his dancing reflects this blankness to the music: it's quite strong, rather heavy, without a delicate touch.  Now, I doubt I'm a butterfly of delicacy on the tango floor, floating about and picking up every nuance of the tune, but I'd like to think that I've got a feel for the music -- and I certainly do feel it.

So it's curious to me both in life and on the dance floor, this difference, and this inability.  How does music sound to you, if it doesn't enter your body and pulse along your veins?  Why do you bother with it, if the best of it doesn't make you feel slightly stoned with pleasure, as if you've moved out of your container whilst still being in it? And what's your reaction to it? 
I mean, what do you think inside when some songs start to play, if you don't think, "Oh, yes, please: this!"?

If you leave aside words of love and loving compliments, I think my favourite phrase IN THE WORLD is,"Do you want to dance?"  I've had it said to me relatively few times, but in widely different venues:  at a birthday party, at a wedding, at clubs, at the milongae, and (most delightfully) in someone's room.  And without fail it has induced acquiescence and instant happiness - yes, I do want to dance.  I do want that music running through me, thank you.  So how odd to be someone who doesn't feel that, or even just doesn't care.

All of which relates in some strange way to a thought I had yesterday:  there are some people you just want to kiss all the time - not kiss in a romantic way, necessarily, and not kiss on the lips, but just people who are so lovely (or, if the kissing is romantic, so delicious-looking) that you'd like to rest your lips against them as often as possible.  And there are some people you just know you never want to kiss; it would be strange and uncomfortable to put your lips on them.  Just so, I suppose, there are people who are alive to music, and there are people who can't hear it at all.


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Oh, I Nearly Forgot

Here, after a long hiatus, is a joke.  It's not my best remaining joke; just think of it as a warm-up joke.  And it isn't the octopus joke (otherwise, what would you have to look forward to?).

Descartes walks into a bar, and the bartender says to him, "Hi, Rene!  Would you like a drink?" Descartes says, "Hmm....I think not."  Then he disappears.

Ba-dump CHH.

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Good Things about Boys

When I first started going out with Dr. Higher, I didn't want him to do anything for me (this was, in part, a minor outcropping of a larger problem:  I wanted to be good at everything).  I once mentioned this in therapy, and the therapist asked me why.  I said - and this was truly how I felt - "Because what if someday he leaves me, or we break up?  Then I'll be left not knowing how to do the stuff I let him do for me."  My therapist said, "Well, I suppose it's possible you could end up all alone on a desert island, but if that doesn't happen, there'll probably be someone around who can help you do those things, and other things as well.  You don't have to know how to do everything."  I decided this was a pretty good point, actually, and that I needed to try loosening up.  One of the things Dr. Higher really loved, and really loved doing for me, was dealing with the computer.  So I let him advise me on what computer to buy, and then I let him organise the computer once I had it:  for example, I would get him to come in the room whenever I wanted to get music off the internet, and he'd call up the site for me.  Very handy.

And what do you think happened?  I suspect, gentle reader, you can guess the end of this story: we broke up.  And there I was left knowing by seeing that I should buy a Mac (they really are clearly better), but not knowing how to do anything with it.  My immediate response was to say that I knew I was right!  I knew it!  I never should have handed anything over to him to handle. My second response was to figure out how to do some stuff on/with the computer, and just let the other stuff go.

Now, however, I have many male friends, and those male friends know how to do things like find the I-assure-you-perfectly-legal-music-downloading site, and get the Mac to do cool things. And you know what?  I'm perfectly happy to have them tell me how to do those things, or (even better) just do them for me.

In my life, I have a very short list entitled Stuff Men Should Do - sometimes it's entitled Things Men Should Do, but the meaning is the same.  The list includes a bunch of things I just plain don't like doing, and/or don't want to do (e.g., Men should take out the trash - I HATE taking out the trash), but it also includes a small number things that I legitimately believe men should do:

Stuff Men Should Do

1.  Take the car in for repairs.
2.  Look up all the boring stuff about computers and stuff on the web, and also implement it.
3.  I think there's another one in there that I can't remember.

My reasoning behind these things is, I believe, sound.  Most car repair shops are staffed by men, and most of those men respect and communicate better with men than they do women.  If I take my car in, the chances of my knowing whether or not the repair suggested is valid is pretty small (although not that small), and the chance of my feeling that I might be being cheated, or of my actually being cheated, is pretty large.  If a man takes the car in, the men in the repair shop will probably be clearer with him, and because they will respect him more they will be less likely to try to put one over on him.  On the computer front, let's face it:  most men love learning all those things about RAM and GB and how to make all the icons on your computer dance when you click on them - the stuff that's quite useful or cool once it's up and working, but super-super-dull to me to sort out.  So, yes, Men Should Do these Things (or that Stuff).

But now I tell you something that is true, but that also, if not exactly a secret, at least would be surprising, I think, to most people who know me:  I love having men do those things.  In fact, at certain times, and if it's done in the right way, I love having men do quite a lot of stuff for me (take the DVD out of my fumbling hands and hold it; turn me gently in the right direction when I get lost; pour my wine, or take the glass out of my hand and do it for me). (The right way to do these things, incidentally, is gently, as if you were being supportive rather than bullying.)  It doesn't have to do with wanting to be saved, or taken care of by being taken over.  Rather, it has to do with the sense it gives me that someone is...um...covering for me:  recognising my areas of weakness and helping me out with them.  That is, it gives me a sense that someone is In It With Me, and wants to help me out -- and that in turn gives me a sense that someone male cares about me enough to want to help me out, to make my life easier, which is a very lovely feeling indeed.  Also, I do so much by myself and for myself these days.  I make all the decisions about what I do, do all the organising, make sure everything is going smoothly. It's just nice not to have to do that sometimes.

So here is a Good Thing about Boys:  they will do the stuff that you find a drag, like setting up the computer and carrying the pizza.  (They may berate you for not wanting to do that stuff, but in a weird way I don't mind that berating if it's brief and low-level:  it's a sign of connection.) And here's another Good Thing about Boys:  they often know about lots of gadgety stuff that makes life easier.  And here's another Good Thing about Boys:  they are quite good at making practical suggestions and "handling things" (this is sometimes irritating, as they often do the latter when you don't want them to, but I would say the positive emotional aspects outweigh the negative ones, here, so it deserves a place as a Good Thing about Boys).  And here's another Good Thing about Boys:  lots of them are just nice, and capable, and, actually, good in a crisis. 

And for all that I say, Thank you, boys.

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19 April 2009

Keep Your Feet Together. Slow Down. Smaller Steps! Smaller Steps!

On Friday I had an excellent tango lesson with the VTTT.  We worked especially on balance and presence, and when I say it was "excellent" what I really mean is that he made me work very hard. I am too fast in tango.  My only excuse for this is that I'm too fast in life, too, but that's not much of an excuse.  When the VTTT first began with me, six weeks ago now, he spent about half the time going, "It's too big! It's too big!" every time I took a step, and the other half saying, "Slow down; slow down!"  Now the steps are no longer too big, but they are still too fast. 

In order to make me give my partner (in this case, him) some resistance (if I move fractionally after he, the resistance creates a pleasant sense of presence for him, and a sense of being moved that is actually quite pleasant for me), the VTTT made me slow down my steps to a rate that was, in fact, a kind of agony for me.  We spent I would say the last 20 minutes of the lesson with him walking me around, saying, "Slow....Slooooow...Slower, Slower."  I felt as if I'd never moved so slowly in my whole life, and I also felt that moving in that way was an incredible strain on my leg muscles.  Very, very (very) gradually, however, I began to realise that I wasn't moving very slowly at all; in reality, he just wanted me to hesitate so that I was fractionally behind the music - a fraction that most people wouldn't even notice.  And what I felt was a strain on my leg muscles actually became a kind of pleasant languor once I stopped fighting against it.  That is, once I ceased to try to be on the music, but rather waited to be moved, my body re-adjusted.  

I said to the VTTT, "Essentially, I'm rewiring my brain," and that's exactly how it felt.  I had to resist every single impulse my brain was sending me to move, and that resistance had to be enormously active and enormously strong, because the impulses were commensurately determined.  But once I'd managed to hold out against them many times, my brain did seem to get the point, and it let my body change.  It was, however, a real struggle, and a really tense one. 

Then, at the end of the lesson, the VTTT said to me, "I like dancing with you.  Most women, they just stand there, but you're able to hold your weight so that you feel me without fighting me."  I was astounded, since there'd just been twenty minutes of  "Slower...Slower...," and I took it as a huge compliment.

And then I made my fatal mistake: I told the FTT that the VTTT had given me this compliment. As a result, at today's tango class he led me through a number of weight-sensitivity moves, designed to see how well I could feel the lead.  And of course...I was terrible.  So much for holding my weight and feeling the leader. (Although I wasn't as terrible as I was last week, when he had to keep repeating, "Keep your feet together.  Keep your feet together.  It helps you feel the tiny weight changes."  And it does.) Of course, rewiring the brain takes more than one go, and of course I am fast in everything, not just tango, but I was still frustrated and embarrassed.  I keep feeling that if I could just have an hour a week for a couple of weeks in which I just danced with someone - no chatting, no gossip, just the two of us working on things we needed to work on, and mixing that with long bouts of dancing - I could sort out this problem of how to hold my weight:  I would just get used to it, get it wired into my brain.

So here is a little secret about me with regard to the FTT:  the truth is, I don't want to dance with him until I can knock his socks off.  It's not because I don't like dancing with him, and not because I think he's judging me:  I looooove
dancing with him, as this blog makes plain, and I don't think he's judging me (well, I do, but
then I remember that he isn't and get over that).  It's because it gives me such happiness to dance with him, a sort of velvety satisfaction, and I want to return that feeling.  When I finish dancing with him, if I haven't totally mucked it up, I always feel a kind of, "Woah!"  I want him to feel the same way when he finishes dancing with me, not feel either that he's done a favour for a friend (although I think we're past that stage), or that it's good, but it could be better if we fixed a few things.  I want him to have the same velvet feeling I have (from the look on his face, I've seen him  have it with a few other people). So while I love dancing with him now, and I'd never turn him down if he asked me, I daydream that a day will come when we'll be evenly matched in dance ability and enjoyment, and he'll love dancing with me, too. That's the day I'll most want to dance with him. 

(I suppose this is related to his being the teacher, even though now he's my friend, too, because there are other men I know who are wonderful dancers, but I don't want to wait to dance with them.)

So I guess I better work on that slooooowing down, and on my relaxing. And on keeping my feet together.  And on making my steps smaller.  And on getting comfortable with giros (in which I need to keep my steps smaller and to move more slowly).  And on being on my axis.  And on....

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16 April 2009


You know how sometimes nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens for a very long time, and then all of a sudden manykeythingshappenatonce?  Well, that just happened. My life was waiting and waiting, and it just took a big step forward.  YES!


In other news, weirdly coincidentally my friend M.  just returned from a conference, where she saw Mr. Fallen!  I said to her, "How did he look?" and she replied, "He looked...................short." Why that should have made me laugh very hard, and also made me love M., I don't know, but it did.  (He's 5'8", by the way.)

One of my favourite song lyrics comes from an otherwise-not-terrific song by Billy Bragg, called
Mother of the Bride (interpolation: I have a great deal of respect and fondness for Billy Bragg. Rock-hard union supporter, confirmed Socialist, hater of Margaret Thatcher, emotionally frank, proud East End boy: what's not to respect?). It's written in the persona of a man who's watching the girl he loves but didn't declare himself to quickly enough marry another man.  At the very end, he says, "Well, I saw them at the hardware store;/He looked boring, and she looked bored."  When I'm feeling low about past relationship losses, I remember this lyric, and I remember that quite often there actually is justice in the world, or at least spiteful satisfaction (the second of which is perhaps not very admirable, but should not be under-rated).

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A Muse and a Little Advice

You know, I don't think Mr. Fallen would dance tango.  Knowing what I know of him, I just can't see him doing it - not because he wouldn't undertake it, or because he would be uncomfortable dancing (although I think he certainly would be that), but because I don't think he'd ever be able to throw himself into it, to LOVE it.  So I think he'd probably, say, learn it to give it a try, or because someone asked him to, but I don't think he'd keep it up, or ever have it bleed into him. And the thing is, now that means I could never be with him.  Because I don't think I could be with someone I couldn't tango with at home.  So I guess I really have changed in an important way since I knew him, and I guess I have...if not outgrown him...irremediably moved away from him.

Please note:  this is not me.  Although I do own a dress 
similar to this, and fishnet tights.  I wish I
owned that guy, too.  Doesn't he look dreamy?  And in delight!

Okay, enough about that.  Now I have a little something to say.  I have a bone to pick with men. Most of my male friends here, they seem to need A LOT of ego boosting.  Now, I know that to some extent this might be because they're relatively inexperienced, but thinking about it I realised that, in fact, all the men I've known intimately need a lot of ego boosting (the ones who were emotionally open, anyway).  Dr. Higher, for example, needed it constantly.  And it is a common stereotype about men that they'll talk for ages about what they do and what interests them, without ever stopping to ask about or listen to what you do and  what interests you.  

It never seems to occur to most men, however, that women might need some ego boosting, too. This is odd, because the media is intensely and it seems so obviously invested in making women feel inadequate in countless ways - I would think anyone would have noticed that at least a little bit.  Also (but perhaps this is to do with the person I am), I think it makes logical sense to assume that other people want the nice stuff you want (chocolate, cuddles, love...), and ego boosting is a nice thing.  Despite these facts, however, men are not much for the compliments or the ego-strokes.  So what I would like to say to men, particularly to men who read this blog, and particularly to my male friends who read this blog, is, You will make women - including your female friends - very happy if you remember to compliment them occasionally.  I don't mean, "You're stunning," or, "I can't believe how smart you are."  But something as small as, "That shirt looks good on you," or, "Talking to you makes me feel happy," goes a long way.  

This is especially true when you are talking to girls about other women.  I took a straw poll (admittedly, the number of those polled was pretty small, but it was more than five), and all polled agreed that they find something very disheartening about men, even their male friends, telling them that they've just seen a hot girl, or pointing one out:  those polled said that, although they did not wish to go out with those men, being the recipient of those observations made them feel vaguely somewhere that those men thought they were not sexually attractive: that saying another woman was hot was okay maybe once or twice, but after that it started to feel as if the guy was saying that to you because you were so unattractive that he just thought of you as one of the guys - in a certain type of community in the States, we would say that the girls think to themselves, "What am I, chopped liver?"  So, guys, how about sometimes prefacing those remarks, or following them, or interweaving them, with some sort of recognition that you realise your friend is pretty, too?  Like, "Wow, that girl is gorgeous!! I mean, she's not gorgeous the way you are, but she's gorgeous."  See how smooth that is?  And everyone feels good.

In other words, you need ego boosts?  So do we.  Give us some. Everyone's insecure:  the support you get should be matched by the support you give.  You think some chick is hot? Remember that we're worried we're not hot, too.  Take that into account as you fling your hotness announcements around.  Face a little more outward, fellas, and a little less inward.

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14 April 2009


Restored to my equilibrium, and having experienced a very strange milonga (but a very good night) last night, I am moved to contemplate...height.

I have a thing about height.  It cannot be denied.  Pretty much all my life, I've found tall men more attractive than smaller men.  My theory on this is that it's to do with evolution: I'm reasonably short (157cm/5'2"), and a tall man would increase the chance of my children being tall.  None of my boyfriends have been under 5'10" (180cm), and they've usually hovered around six feet (183cm). But then I got involved with Mr. Fallen, who was 5'8" (172cm), and all of a sudden I had to rethink my height preference.  For one thing, when we stood next to each other I could actually see his face, an entirely new experience for me with men I've been involved with. For another thing, when I stood behind him I could see over his shoulder, which made a change from my usual back-of-shoulder view, and which meant that when we walked through a crowd, or stood in one, I could actually see what was going on - also a new experience.  I found I quite liked this, much as I liked being able to kiss him casually without having to tug on his sleeve to get him to bend down.  But then there was no more Mr. Fallen, and my eyes seemed to rise again naturally.  I thus conclude that my height preference is hard-wired, or at least wired.  Ah, but how much height?

I contemplated this for some time at yesterday's milonga, where I danced with a broad array of heights (I was wearing 2.5" heels, which brings me to 5'5", or 165cm).  Height turns out to be surprisingly significant in tango, but not in the way I would have expected.  First of all, really tall is not good:  the VTTT is really tall (obviously) - in fact, he is 33 cms (that's 13 inches) taller than I am.  He's a fantastic dancer, a wonderful teacher, and a superb leader, but because of the height difference I spend all my time dancing with his chest. If I want to see his face I actually, genuinely have to crane my neck, and that doesn't make for a comfortable dance experience. And if I don't crane my neck I end up face to face with his pectorals, not a particularly interesting part of a man's body when you are three inches (max!) from it, and it is clothed.

My lovely friend J. is 11 inches (27cm) taller than I, a full foot (30cm) with his tango shoes on. This is better than the VTT, but presents another problem:  he's tall enough that staring straight ahead offers a rather boring view (if it were a painting, it would be titled, "The Third Button of J.'s Shirt"), but not so tall that there's nothing to see but him (as with really tall people, whom I always find I sort of have to battle way out of and around).  Because I still have to crane my neck, he thus presents me with the temptation to...look at his feet, and this temptation I find (only on him) irresistible.  In tango this is very bad.  You do not look at the leader's feet.  It'll get you in the end.

Okay, so the logical conclusion would be to try the other extreme, and this I have done:  men my own height.  As I've mentioned before on this blog, if you are looking for men my height and you are not in, say, Peru, you will look for a long time.  So I round up: "my height" becomes "5'6" or 7" (the other expression for this in my vocabulary is "short." Yes, yes, I'm aware how this reflects on me.  Sorry, guys).  In fact, there's a guy, R., at the milongae who is just about this height, and I love dancing with him because he's very willing to let me try out new steps on him, and very willing to show me new steps.  But I have noticed before that I have strange balance problems with him.  A very important part of tango (and a part I struggle with) is giving your partner "presence"; you have to rest a certain amount of weight on them, so they can feel how you're moving and what they can do with you, and so you can feel what they want to do with you.  With R., and with The Tiny Polish Man I danced with last night (the TPM), I can't find a way to rest my weight on them.  Because our heights are so even, I feel that I'd push them over - and also, here I suspect familiarity plays a part: I'm used to leaning my shoulders against a man's pectoral area, and thus it feels odd to press them against his shoulders (and to be fair, the male centre of gravity is the chest, so pushing against there is most stable). 

So 6'2" and above is out, and 5'7" and below is out.  This leaves me with a fairly narrow range. Fortunately, I have two home-brewed candidates available:  the FTT and S.A.

And here the complexities of height choice reveal themselves.  The FTT is slightly less tall than S.A. - I'd guess he's about 5'9" (175cm), 5'10" in tango shoes.  He is, of course, a divine dancer, so we can leave that out of the equation. But even leaving that out, there are advantages, all of them connected to height.  First, my shoulders hit his upper chest:  very stable.  Second, my chin comes not quite at his shoulder level, but close enough that I'm not smothered by his chest, so even though I close my eyes I feel free (as opposed to stifled).  Third, I can smell his aftershave, and I relax at the smell of good aftershave.  And, most significantly, I get The Cheek.  I have written about The Cheek before, and I don't want you to think I seek it out fanatically (because then I would get a reputation as a Cheek-Seeker, and I know what people think about Cheek-Seekers...), but I cannot deny that I love it.  If I dance well with him, and he relaxes, he rests his cheek against mine.  It feels so...safe?  No, better would be restful.  He is the only person I dance with who is the right height for this to happen, and it actually turns out to matter not only for reasons of enjoyment, but also because it makes me relax, and relaxation makes you a better tango-er (although, to add a slight sideline to this already-deranged monologue, the whole cheek thing makes me wonder what to do with my hair.  I have a lot of hair, and because of relative heights, I worry that a lot of men who dance with me get a mouth or chinful of giant hair.  So I think of clipping it back, but I look vaguely dowdy and not at all sexy that way [and considering that "just above not at all sexy" is about where I fall, I better clutch on to what I can].  It's a conundrum...).

Then we have S.A., who comes in at 180cm (5'11", 6' in tango shoes).  Also an excellent dancer, but in a different way.  You would think he would present the same problem as J., and in a sense he does:  if I open my eyes, my view is "The Second Button of S.A.'s Shirt."  It turns out, however, that the loss of two to three inches has an invaluable advantage:  my shoulder comes just to his upper pectoral area, which is an incredibly stable place to rest my weight, especially in close embrace.  So I feel most stable with him.  Also, although my eyes don't quite come above his shoulder, I can see over his shoulder if I want to, so I'm not stifled with him, either. Finally, I can't smell his aftershave, but I can smell his shirt, and this smell is pleasant but less strong than aftershave; thus, it's less distracting than yummy aftershave can be.  But he is too tall for Cheekdom!  So I gain in stability, but I lose in nameless restfulness (although because I know him as a person I get some such restfulness anyway - but I wouldn't get this from another, same sized, partner).

So what can we conclude from this?  Well, we might conclude that if I ever leave Cambridge and intend to dance tango wherever I live, I better leave some space in my luggage for S.A. or the FTT.  But this seems slightly impractical.  The rather more practical conclusion is that my optimal tango partner is between 5'9" and 6'0" (175 and 183cm).  But this is the height range I like best in men, anyway!!  Which leads me to wonder:  all along have I been wired not for evolutionary purposes but for tango purposes?  The ways of God or nature are dark indeed...

I include this chart because all male tango dancers should strive to achieve James Bondian suavity:

Although according to this, my Optimal Tango Partner Bond is Timothy Dalton.  I mean, Timothy Dalton?

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11 April 2009

The Solution

Sometimes you go back to the house.  

Or, as my friend S.A. would say, you take the house's number, so you can call it for the conversation while you keep walking onward.

Or, as I would say, you add it all up and realise that never going in the house again will cause
you more distress than sitting there and not getting everything you want.  So you go back to the house and let its positives outweigh the negatives.  But you leave the door open, in case another traveller appears.

His way of putting it is, I think, more elegant.

I reflect, not for the first time in my life, that being an adult sucks.

I said to the FTT, "People should just love each other."  He said, "Yes, and they should be able to just have sex.  In the future, people will ask each other to have sex like now they ask each other if they want a cup of tea."  Which struck me as so funny that after I got home I laughed and laughed.

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09 April 2009

An Allegory

Imagine that you are on a long road.  You're not at the beginning, but there's a lot more of it in front of you than there is behind you. You're carrying a bag, or sack, or rucksack, a weight that's not heavy enough to make you miserable, but a weight that's heavy enough to make you know it would be more pleasant if you could put it down.

Behind you on the road, close enough that you could turn around and walk to it if you were so minded, is a village. It's one of the best and most inviting of villages:  little houses with thatched roofs and cozy yellow light emanating from windows, streaming out of snug rooms.  You know that you could turn around and return to that village, wend your way through the small comforting streets to a given door, knock to be let in, and they'd be glad to see you.  They'd let you put your rucksack down, and they'd give you a cup of tea, probably even a meal.  If you had stories to tell about what you'd seen on your road so far, and how you'd responded to it, they'd love to hear those stories:  in fact, they'd almost certainly have paid attention to many of the same things on the roads they'd travelled, and they'd be thrilled to discuss those things with you.  They'd sit up late into the night talking with you about what you all had seen, and what you thought about it.

At the same time as you know that, though, you also know a couple of other things.  You know that for you that house is like a home, and the time you spend there, the topics you talk about and the way you talk about them, are special.  The people who live there are like family to you - or maybe like the family you would have picked, if you'd been given the option.  You also know, however, that for those people you're just a friend of the family, a traveller - one who may rank higher than all other travellers who pass through, but still a traveller, a friend.  And although they love the stories you bring, they don't love them as much as the same stories, or even not-quite-as-good stories, told by members of the family.  You know that, and it makes you sad. The people in that house never tell you you're one of the family - they never pretend - so all your sorrow stems from your own yearning.  You know that if you squint a little, and if you actively ignore certain events and certain knowledges, you can pretend that you're one of the family - but you also know you never will be.  You know that sometimes, perhaps even often as time goes on, the people in that house will act as if you're one of the family, but they'll do it unconsciously, and it won't be significant to them - although it will, of course, make you very happy indeed.

So you have two options:  you can turn around on your road, wend your way back, knock on the door of the warm house, knowing that you would be happy there, but that it would all be based on a lie for you.  You could have the pleasure of sitting at that kitchen table, drinking that tea, laughing over those shared opinions and thinking about and learning from those unshared opinions.  But you would have to know all along that, although the other people in the house are getting from and giving to you the maximum amount of enjoyment they can from you, you are always missing a central chip of the enjoyment you could get from them.  OR you can settle your load more heavily on your back and walk away from the village and the house.  You won't be lying, or always hoping that maybe the people in the house will give you more than, actually, they can.  And there may be another house down the road, someday, where the people will make you one of the family - and it's not as if this house and this family are the perfect house and family; you could keep your chin up and walk down your road thinking those thoughts.  On the other hand, you won't see the people in this house behind you anymore, and you'll walk down your road alone, having lost the pleasure you have in that house.  But that pleasure would always have contained some pain for you.  And this way you'll have your sense of worth -- but not much more. But you won't be lying, and you won't be accepting crumbs when what you really want is the loaf.  But you'll have lost the people in that house.

Here, it would seem, is a dilemma indeed.  Which option, my dearest reader, would you choose?

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08 April 2009

The Value of the Paternal

It occurred to me tonight while I was dancing (reasonably well, actually) with the FTT that everyone ought to be issued with a spare dad.  That is, not the father that one has, but a sort of fantasy father, one who is totally on your side, always supportive, and always there if you need someone.  Your real father could never fulfill this role, because part of being a good real father is that you challenge your child, or at least teach them that they are not always right - in a way, to be a good real father you must seem to be at least slightly not on your child's side (although this is in fact a way of being on their side, as it equips them with skills and wisdom that will help them get through life).

Your spare dad would be the way Dr. McGann is to me about my career: no matter what I tell him about how things are going, or what I send him to read, he responds by saying, "You're wonderful.  You're going to be a huge success."  Your spare dad would be the way my friend L's father was when she told him the story of me and Mr. Fallen:  he immediately said, "He's a jerk."  When you were sad, your spare dad would always open his arms in just the right way, and give you just the right sort of cuddle.  He would always be understanding, and his understanding would have no time limit.  If you needed career encouragement, your spare dad would give it; if you needed someone to express righteous anger on your behalf, your spare dad would do it.  And if you didn't need him you could just fold him away until, like an emergency dinghy, he popped up instantly whole and working the next time you needed him.

Until such dads are issued, I will be grateful for the existence of tall male friends, because they allow you to hide your face when you dance.

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07 April 2009

Oh, It's the Last Time

It would be best, I think, if we could turn ourselves inside out,
or wipe ourselves clean, like giant blackboards, so that we could feel no emotion at all. What I 
would like most of all is to simply feel...nothing, to walk through my life as collected and
unruffled below as I can appear to be on the surface.  If I could extract my limbic system and throw it away, I would do that.

My friends would tell me, as they have told me in the past, that it's useful to remember that everyone suffers and is unhappy, that it comes to us all.  But I don't want everyone to suffer - I don't want anyone to suffer.  I get no pleasure or sense of justice from the unhappiness of others, and I would turn away from myself even more if I did.  Let others be unhappy, or let them feel the great happiness we all deserve - in fact, I hope ardently that everyone will be happy.  I would just like to watch from above, untouched in any way.

People would say I wouldn't feel that way if I were happy, that then I'd want my emotions, and of course they'd be right.  My last therapist would say we must have great sorrow if we are to have great happiness:  if we can't feel the first, we also can't feel the second.  And he's right.  But right now, at this moment, if I could anaesthetise myself utterly - if I could pluck out my heart from my chest and flick it away from me like a disliked chocolate - I would do it.

This is the last post I'll write about this, because it's unfair to make these disgorgings given the audience that may read them.

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06 April 2009

Blame, Wishes, and Brookes

I don't usually give life advice, because (a) I think it's patronising, and (b) I don't think I'm in a position to give it.  But I'd like now to...not exactly give life advice, but say a couple of things I have been musing on and really think are true - only the way I'll say them will sound like life advice.  So, sorry.

It seems to me that it's good to remember that there are situations in which no one is to blame. A lot of the time, again it seems to me, people want to assign fault to someone, or say someone in a given situation has behaved poorly or wrongly.  But there are some situations - indeed, perhaps most - in which that is simply not true.

I would conceive of these situations as a cluster of snooker or billiard balls.  Billiard balls move, and they move other billiard balls to go in certain directions, but you couldn't say they were "to blame" for that.  In fact, I don't think you could even say they were responsible.  A billiard ball rolls, and strikes another billiard ball, which also rolls, so a thing makes another thing happen, but the first thing is not responsible for the direction of movement of the second thing (a former friend of mine who's an admirer of snooker would point out here that if the person who moves the first ball is a good snooker player, in fact ball A most certainly is responsible for the direction of the movement of ball B, and he would be right.  So let me amend this to say that one ought to imagine someone simply rolling or hitting ball A with no plan or aim:  no shot has been set up).  In the same way, one person may perform an action or come to a decision, but they are not responsible for the way the way another responds to that, for the action or decision that person B makes when they are faced with person A's action or decision.  They may precipitate a response, but they are not responsible for it, or to blame for it.

I believe that if you really care for someone, a part of you cares for them disinterestedly - as a friend - and just wants them to be happy.  At the same time, I believe, if you are a thoughtful, sensible person, you want to be happy yourself.  Sometimes, these two wants clash with each other.  In those cases, it seems to me that the best you can do is negotiate some sort of compromise, one in which the person will be allowed to be maximally happy, but you will not make yourself devastatingly unhappy in the process of allowing them that.  Here, we might say that although what will make the other person happy has caused your negotiated compromise, it is not to blame for it. In writing about the nature of the occurrences in Don Juan, Jerome McGann remarks that, "Things might have been otherwise, and with just as much reason, but they weren't."  I love the zen acceptance of that sentence on its own, but it also seems to me applicable here:  things have happened in a situation such as the one I describe above, but they have happened very nearly randomly - nothing and no one can really be blamed.

Secondly, in the last couple of years it's really helped me to conceive of life as a long long corridor - or maybe just better to say as a long long progression.  Things that seem very important today, or this year, will seem like nothing in five years, or ten, or twenty - or even in six months.  BF is able now to chat (admittedly only briefly) with the man who dumped her cruelly five years ago; my aunt and uncle talk on the phone with the man my aunt left for my uncle thirty years ago. When I am full of sorrow, or am miserable, or am griefstricken, I always think that feeling will last forever.  But I try these days to remember that five years ago, or six months ago, I knew people and worried about things that aren't at all important to me now, and so five years or six months from now this sorrow may seem small.  Sometimes this works.

Years ago - really and truly years ago - I went to see Howard Jones in concert (the very fact that it was Howard Jones will give you some idea of how many years ago we're talking).  In some in-between-song patter he told a story about a day in the life of a person, most of which I don't remember, but I do remember the part where he said, "And he saw someone across the street, and he ran up to them and said, 'I love you!' and the person said, 'I love you, too!'"  Then he paused and said, "But it never happens like that, does it?"  Of course it doesn't.  But all of life doesn't happen like that, and it seems to me that it's best, if at all possible, to cut everyone a break, knowing that - even yourself.  Understand whenever you can.

Now I am done being pompous.

Of course, that all makes me sound amazingly selfless, and I certainly am not.  When Mr. Fallen let me go, I did want him to be happy, so I didn't blame him.  But I was puh-lenty angry, and thus I did wish sorrow upon him for a while.  And that's why I don't like to give life advice:  I am as implicate-able as anyone else.

What I wished most of all was that he would miss me, that he would recognise my absence as a loss, and in some way or at some level himself wish it were different, or think that it would have been just as good/better if it had been been different (if things had been otherwise, and with just as much reason).  Alas, the difficulty with that wish is that the person on the other end of it does not  (and cannot) send you little bulletins, and thus as a wish it must always be frustrated.  And the other difficulty, for me, is that if the regret does not result in a change of behaviour - in this case, in a realisation and return - it's pointless.  In a sense, in fact, sorrow that does not result in action or change is worse than no sorrow at all.  Thus it seemed to me that I could get nothing from that wish, so in the end I tried to cease wishing it.  It seemed and seems pointless.

In other news, yesterday in the morning I went with a group of friends to The Orchard in Granchester, a place made famous by Rupert Brooke.  As it happens, Rupert Brooke is the first poet whose work I ever admired - as opposed to admiring only certain poems.  As a grown-up with a Ph.D. in EngLit, I can tell you that Rupert Brooke is not that great a poet.  But he is a better poet than he's generally thought to be (since he's generally remembered for his rather gloppy war sonnet, "A Foreign Field."  Urgh).  So, in honour of cream tea in The Orchard, I thought I'd reproduce a Rupert Brooke sonnet here.  It's better than you might expect.


HEART, you are restless as a paper scrap 
That's tossed down dusty pavements by the wind; 
Saying, "She is most wise, patient and kind. 
Between the small hands folded in her lap 
Surely a shamed head may bow down at length, 
And find forgiveness where the shadows stir 
About her lips, and wisdom in her strength, 
Peace in her peace. Come to her, come to her!"... 

She will not care. She'll smile to see me come, 
So that I think all Heaven in flower to fold me. 
She'll give me all I ask, kiss me and hold me, 
And open wide upon that holy air 
The gates of peace, and take my tiredness home, 
Kinder than God. But, heart, she will not care.

And, because we've had no tango for a while, here is what I'm pretty sure is my favourite tango song.

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05 April 2009

This Is Just a Bruise

This evening I did a terrible thing.  A terrible, terrible, terrible thing.  It wasn't anything cruel or unkind, and it was the right thing to do, but it will bring me nothing but pain.

We think that if we try hard enough we can get anything we want, or we think that if we can't get something it isn't really right for us, and if we know that we won't mind not getting it.  We think that if we like someone enough, in a pure enough way, they will surely see what we are and like us back.  We think that if we are smart enough, or clever enough, or funny or slender or pretty or delightful enough, we can make someone awake to good sense and desire us.  If we have done enough work on ourselves, and if we have had a long period of sorrow, and if we are optimists, we believe that this time, finally, surely, it will go our way.  But none of these things are true.  Trying hard does not mean succeeding; being wonderful does not mean being loved by those whom we love.  Wanting and deserving does not mean getting.

So now I have been wise, and saved myself a good deal of extended sorrow by choosing a good deal of immediate sorrow, and I have once more taken what I think is the right decision, to behave quietly and, I hope, well.  And no one but me will ever know that my favourite jumper is the one with the little pockets a person can put their hands in, or that there's a little place in the collarbone that's just the right size declivity for when I dance, or that the brown shirt is good, and the beige shirt is good, but the black shirt is best, or that deep red is the best colour, or that the singing along is lovely lovely lovely, or that the stories are always wonderful, or that the plays on words are the best, or that the dancing is like coming home.  And no one will ever care about those things the way I care.  And no one will ever care that I care, or give me the credit that I should get for that caring. Because no matter what ought to be, or what would be if there were any real justice, you cannot make someone want you.  You cannot:  I know that.

So I will wait, and this will go, as all things must go, and someday I expect I won't care very much that I was denied this chance, that I had to wait for happiness a bit longer, and that yet again I was not granted the opportunity to make someone else happy.

And that's okay.

And, yes, it's true:  dancing is touching someone. I was wrong about that, and unfair, and you were right.  I'm sorry.

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04 April 2009


Maybe because I'm sad BF has gone (we just parted), or maybe because I had a bit to drink last night and alcohol is a depressant, or maybe because I'm just feeling a bit glum, I've decided to be a bit sad tonight.

Last year, when Mr. Fallen let me go, I was more unhappy than I've ever been in my life.   It was terrible:  I don't want to devalue anyone else's misery, so I won't compare, but I will say that it was terrible.  For a long time I cried every day, at least once and usually more than that.  And during that terrible time, and again in March after I broke off communication with him, and again this past summer after I saw him for the last time, I used to lie on my bed and think to myself, How can I not be dead?  How can the human body sustain this much physical pain and not burst open or split spontaneously?  Once or twice I imagined cracking my chest open and lifting my heart out - disconnecting it - because I thought even that couldn't be as painful as what I was feeling.  I never knew a heart could hurt that way, or that emotional trauma could cause such intense physical agony.

I don't feel I should get any special credit for continuing to get up and do my work during that time, because that's how life goes:  you have to keep doing your job and performing your outside duties while you're in pain.  And I don't feel I should get any special credit for having experienced that pain, because I think that's actually pretty common:  almost everyone has been broken up with, or experienced much worse than that, and my pain was not at a rare level for such an experience, I daresay.

So I don't know why I'm telling that story, really.  Perhaps just to say it.  Perhaps because I never told it before (I didn't).  Perhaps because the only thing I've ever gathered from that experience is that, having gone through it, no romantic pain could ever hurt me as much again. Once you've felt that, what could compare?  So it's actually an uplifting tale...Or maybe I'm just telling it because I'm sleepy and a bit down.

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