22 August 2010

On Hiatus

Temperature: 35c/95f

The word on the street, reader, is that all things must end. I'm not sure that's true, but I'm sure it's true that all things must pause. Here I am re-ensconced in WhereIlive; my term starts tomorrow, and with it what I hope will be a brief period of my life. That doesn't mean I don't expect it to be fun: in fact, I'm making a real effort to make it fun, and eventful, and valuable (that's really true). But it does mean that this blog, which was meant to chronicle my time in England, isn't really relevant anymore. So this is my last entry here.

It isn't, however, my last entry anywhere. I'm starting a new blog later this week. If you're interested in reading it, give me some way to reach you, and I'll send you the url. The Hair of the Damned will be resumed when I return to my non-US existence in ten months.

I'm not sure how I feel about these past two years, aside from feeling that they were amazingly good for me, and very important - well, I guess that is how I feel about them. I'm certainly not sure, though, how I feel about the months to come. I don't know what will happen, or what it will mean to me. But how can I be? It's the future. Which I will chronicle - with explanations, and with some reference to the past.

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19 August 2010

Come out Screaming

Temperature: 27c/80f

Here I am at Parentshome. Parentshome is less hot than WhereIlive, but not by much: it's like going out of the fire and into the frying pan. I'm afraid it's also marginally more boring. There's simply nothing for me to do here, since it's not my home, none of my friends live here anymore, and it's in a suburb (neither a city nor a village). My parents are here, however, and it's good to spend time with them. I'm even managing not to fight with my mother, by dint of a good deal of behavioural control. I know that's not very nice to say, but my mother and I are very different now, and that makes for all sorts of problems.

I think, though, that this visit to Parentshome is quite good in one respect: I'm easing myself back into the States. If I'd stayed in WhereIlive this week, I would have gone into my department, seen people, and been quickly immersed into Being In The States. I don't think that would have been good. This way, although I am experiencing the States again, I'm doing it as if I were on holiday (which I am), and that's much better (although there has already been some crying. It was very short, however).

So here is what I've learned about America so far: it's really big. And there is way too much stuff. Of course America is a huge country, but I find it very interesting the way Americans take this hugeness for granted. Coming from Otherhome, I'm genuinely disconcerted by the lavishness of the quotidian here. First of all, buildings and spaces are HUGE, and that hugeness isn't shown off or emphasized for effect: it's just a fact. You wander through vast spaces to shop, to get off a plane, to take a walk, to drive, and to me it's just weird (although also familiar and comfortable, which makes it even more weird). And then there is simply so much stuff. At the shoe store (a relatively small shoe store) you can pick from ten variations on the same style of boot; at the clothing store you can pick from racks and racks and racks of clothes. I wouldn't say this is obscene, but it is intensely disturbing to me. It seems to me as if these things have just been disgorged out onto the floor, vomited out without restraint or care. In Otherhome I had what I thought was a lot - too many clothes for my closet - and I saw what I thought was a lot - twenty styles of shoe, enough packaged food to feed a militia - but it turns out I have become an amateur in a lot.

This is one of the top reasons I'll leave. I can't take this much a lot.

The one unmitigated joy (and there was a lot of it, too!) of coming to Parentshome, is that I did indeed go to New York to see Jennifer. It was super fun! We went to the Russian Tea Room, where we didn't get the Tootsie booth (they were filming something top secret in the room where the booth was), but we did get to see the giant rotating bear with fish inside, and to admire the waiters' lovely frock coats, and to catch up over a giant tea neither of us could finish. Then we wandered around Manhattan for five hours, including a visit to an excellent exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and a delighted hour in a (giant) drugstore. Although there are many good things about Jennifer, there are two really good things about her: she is always funny, and when we're together it's as if we've never been apart. So we talked and talked and talked, and on my part pretty much completely caught up. And it was delightful.

Today is my father's birthday. Tomorrow is the day I arranged to stay after my father's birthday. The day after that I'm going back to WhereIlive. And then, I suspect, real life will begin.

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16 August 2010

Blood Everywhere

Temperature at 9pm: 29c/84f

In case the temperature didn't give it away, I'm back in Arkansas. The trip was hellish: due to rain in Chicago, I didn't get into WhereIlivenow until 2am, by which time all the shuttles were gone. I was very kindly offered a ride by a baggage handler ("If you're a serial killer," I said to him, "I just want you to know that I'm very unhappy at the moment, so if you killed me it would be a relief. So there wouldn't be much in it for you."), which meant I made it home by 3. At which point I discovered my door was unlocked, and apparently had been so for two months. But nothing was stolen. Which is WhereIlivenow in a nutshell.

What with the tension, the misery, the messed-up sleep schedule, and the stunning change in weather, I woke up yesterday with a migraine. Four aspirin and two cups of tea later, though, I was ready to begin my temporary life, which I did by unpacking, and then by cleaning. And cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, a task I continued today. Which is when, in the process of trying to remove the glass cover to a ceiling light fixture so I could change a bulb, I timed the screw-loosening wrong and thus caused the cover to plunge to the floor, smashing and scattering everywhere. I was totally unhurt, as I was for almost all of the clean-up process, except a moment when I nicked my right index finger at the bottom of the first knuckle. It bled a bit, and then all of a sudden it bled a lot and, rather dramatically, everywhere: the finger felt wet, and when I looked down blood had run down the nail and made a little pool on the desktop. It was quite impressive. So I washed it, and it bled again. I felt like the guy in "A Boy Named Sue," down in "the mud and the blood and the beer."

Well, that's a re-entry. Tomorrow I'm off to Parentshome for a week, including a day in Manhattan to see Jennifer. After that, I'll be putting this blog on hiatus. Before that, though, expect a picture of The Russian Tea Room, Tootsie booth!

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12 August 2010


I did not think that at the last minute something would save me, or that the end would never come, but I did think maybe I would have enough time.

Now I have to go, and I'm leaving so many things behind, and November seems a long time away, and things can change in a heartbeat, and things will never ever be the same again. If I'd stayed for a month more they could have stayed the same for that month, but now I must go, and things will never be this good again. And I am afraid. I'm afraid that things will only change for the worse, and that I'll lose chances without gaining others.

Who will I talk to? With whom will I be intimate? Who will I love? How will I manage the next 3.5 months?

S. would say, "Look how you managed six months with Mr. Fallen, all via e-mail and after only three days of knowing each other. That's amazing [he actually did say that right after Mr. Fallen let me go]. And here you have two years of exposure, at the least two months, and the phone, and skype, and letters, and e-mail. This is nothing." And he'd be right. But right now it feels like a great loss, and a forever one.

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07 August 2010

Spheres of Rice

On Monday night I'm going out to dinner at Carluccio's with The Neighbour. Now, normally I tell The Neighbour whatever story something reminds me of, and in the case of Carluccio's I not only have a story but have a story I always think of when Carluccio's comes up in conversation, and whenever Carluccio's comes up in conversation with The Neighbour (as it has on a number of occasions). This is a quite good story, but I can't tell it to The Neighbour - but I burst to tell it. So I thought I'd tell it to you and get it out of my system before Monday. Last year I went to Carluccio's on a date with an Italian guy (the first time The Neighbour told me he loved Carluccio's I thought it was an amazing coincidence that this was the same restaurant I'd been to with this guy, but I've since learned that Italians in Cambridge generally love Carluccio's. Anyway...). This guy was quite attractive and had been pretty nice when I'd met him previously, and he was still attractive and pretty nice when I met him at Carluccio's. BUT (Well, okay, in all honesty at this stage I should say he was wearing an orange jumper than highlighted certain unfortunate aspects of his physique. So he wasn't as attractive as he had been. Okay, so...). When the time came to order, as an appetizer he ordered Arancini di Riso. Even though he was Italian he ordered them in English, and the English translation is "fried rice balls." And he didn't crack a smile. Not only didn't he crack a smile, he didn't even raise an eyebrow; his lips didn't even twitch. And I thought to myself, Can I seriously become involved with someone who can order "balls" in public and not betray in any way that he wants to laugh?

To be fair to the guy, he might have been dying inside and taking every ounce of self-control not to smirk. And to be fair to me, I didn't decide not to see him again based on that: he turned out to be unpleasantly aggressive, and he made a misogynistic comment. Also, we just didn't suit. But whenever anyone mentions Carluccio's, I always think of the man I decided not to see again because he didn't twitch a lip when he ordered fried rice balls.

Yes, I am facile. And, apparently, immature.

I think you can see why you wouldn't tell this story to anyone you didn't know very well.

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05 August 2010


Forgive the intimacy of the following revelation; the revelation matters.

When Mr. Fallen and I would have sex, he would make no noise - except, just at the end, I could tell he was about to have an orgasm because he would say, "Oh! oh! oh!" It wasn't like, "Ah" or even an open "oh": the sounds were round and fully formed, and to be strictly accurate they were more "O! o! o!": I thought of them as little bubbles of O. It was very precise, and for that reason very striking.

I see now that that pronunciation makes the utterance very heartfelt, for when I contemplate saying good-bye to all these people, then getting on the plane and being without them, suddenly and completely and for a long time, I say aloud to myself, "O. O. O." Only this captures the precise slice of the pain, and the terrible clarity of the sense of loss. O. O. O.

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04 August 2010

Close Shaves

Well, it's a bit of a tense time here in me-land, and I've decided to deal with that by...avoiding it! At least on this blog. What I will say is that when I return to Otherhome I will suspend this blog and start another, intended to cover my time while in Otherhome (which will then become WhereIlive). So this blog will cease, but hopefully only temporarily.

Now, on to the avoidance! Yesterday I was moved to think about shaving. What, you ask, could possibly move you to think about shaving? A fair enough question. To which the answer is, an article I read at my beautician's that told men how to wet shave. And as a result my thoughts were about wet shaving. And here are my thoughts: I love wet shaving for men.

When I was little, my father wet shaved. On the one had this may seem odd, because my father has a beard, and at that time had a moustache as well. But even beard-bearers need to shave, and my father wet shaved. Specifically, he wet shaved over the sink in my parents' bathroom (which had tiles halfway up the walls, and the top line of tiles had little swags of flowers tied at each end with bows on them - and now I long for such tiles, my childhood impression that they were the most elegant tiles ever unmoved by any later tiles or tile experiences).
Clearly this early exposure to wet shaving, and on the only male model I had, set it in my mind that men wet shave: that is what men do. And for this reason I do not like electric shaving for men (or for women, I suppose. But that plays less of a role in my life). In my not-so-secret
heart I believe that wet shaving gives you a closer shave - well, what I really mean isthat whenever I see a closely shaved man I think to myself, A-HA! I bet he wet shaves! And I certainly find electric shaving unsexy. If I pass the bathroom while you're shaving and you have foam on your face and a manual razor, I'll stop and admire you, but if you have an electric razor I'll just think, Uck. But really what I believe, in my subconscious heart, is that electric shaving is unmanly. Wet shaving is just more masculine, dammit. And you have my father to thank for this belief.

Isn't that funny: when I was little my father was a, shall we say, not so good father. And he was scary. I was scared of him. But now that I'm grown up I adore him, and I discover repeatedly how, in ways I think are good or at least harmless, he's set my notions of manliness. He told me once that he was sorry: he wished he'd been a better model, because then I might have had happier relationships. I told him at the time that in fact I thought the problem was that my boyfriends hadn't been enough like him. But I wonder sometimes these days if he was right.

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29 July 2010

The Mysteries of Pleasure

When I leave in two weeks' time, I will not say to The Neighbour the night before I leave, "I wish I could stay here and have breakfast with you every day. My breakfasts in Arkansas will be miserable by comparison. I have enjoyed my time with you more than I can express, and my life will be the poorer for not having you in it. I really don't want to go." And I can virtually guarantee you that The Neighbour will not say, "I really don't want you to go. You have made my life so much more fun by being here. I will miss you every day." Indeed, I cannot imagine that I will make the first utterance (mine) to anyone I'm leaving here, although there are many people to whom I might make it. I won't say what I want to say because of the post below, which means I'm not going to take the risk of saying that and not having the person respond in kind, and The Neighbour, or my FTT, or S.A., or almost anyone else won't say it for the same reason, or because they might feel foolish, or simply because it wouldn't occur to them.

But why? I have given up going first, which is why I wouldn't make such an utterance, but why don't other people do it? I can't believe that, except for messed up or deeply repressed or deeply reserved (which I think I would slip in under the heading of "odd") people, anyone wouldn't like to know that they're loved and valued, and so I can't believe that people wouldn't want to make others feel loved and valued. Just being - as in, "I wouldn't be with you if I didn't love and value you" - is not enough, since every day we hang out with people we don't like, we repress thousands of irritations, and we settle. Also, just being is not enough because people don't exist, I believe, in a state where they just believe they're great, or unique: they need some top-ups to remind them. Also, the pleasure of telling someone you love (in whatever sense of that word) that you love them is enormous: how delightful to make someone you love happy! And how equally delightful to be able to say, as you do when you tell someone they're awesome, "I know an awesome person!"

What exactly is it people are afraid of, leaving aside the possibility that the sentiment might not be reciprocated? Looking foolish? I guess I can't see how expressing love makes you look foolish. Being embarrassed? Of course it is embarrassing at first to make such announcements, but the pleasure given vastly outweighs the embarrassment, I think, and in any case the embarrassment fades. Are they afraid of expressing emotion all together? If that's the case, I would, just out of interest, like to know why. What's so bad about expressing emotion? Well, I'm embarrassed about it, too, so I guess I can sort of answer that. Expressing emotion makes you look weak, because offering always makes you look weak, I think (because if the person refuses you look like a fool for offering). It also makes you look weak because it shows you have layers and needs: to say, "I like you" is to indicate that you're looking for someone to like, maybe even that you need someone to life, and that's an admission of weakness, in its own way.

And yet, I'd like to think that if I hadn't given up being brave all of these factors wouldn't be able to overcome the fact that it would make the other person happy to hear themselves treasured, unique, missed. What a lovely thing, to know you matter! And, as the teller, how lovely to know someone has made you happy!

Incidentally, on Monday I'm going to try to make this cake:

I'll try to remember to post a photo of my attempt.

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27 July 2010


"Oh, you should be brave," people frequently say. "You regret the things you didn't do, not the things you did do." Well, in my opinion, after a great deal of experience and experimentation, bravery is over-rated. So is not regretting. Or rather, you do, in fact, regret the things you did do.

If I had never told Mr. Heaven I wanted to kiss him, if I had never asked him over for biscuits, if I had never gone up to him at Hallowe'en, I never would have had all that sorrow and trouble over him. More to the point, if I'd never done any of those things, I would have been able to spend the rest of my life thinking, Maybe Mr. Heaven did want me, tee hee, instead of having to think, Mr. Heaven made me unhappy (and, incidentally, apparently didn't want me). If I had never approached Mr. Fallen at that conference, I would have been full of wrath that a member of my department got to go out with a graduate student while I got nothing (which is how the whole thing started), and I probably would have been a lot more sexually frustrated, but I also would not have got my heart broken, and I'm going to have to say that THAT would be sufficient balance for sexual frustration.

My conclusion, therefore, is that I intend to spend the next year of my life, at least, being a lot less brave. As far as I can discern, most people are not brave, and they live pretty happy lives. Sure, if you're brave you can find enormous happiness - maybe enormouser than the happiness of all those non-brave people - but you can also get your teeth kicked in by a German engineer and your heart broken by a Blake scholar of indifferent skill. So I think I'll let someone else be brave, while I enjoy my more cowardly, unwounded life.

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25 July 2010


A couple of summers ago I introduced myself to the series Shameless. I came to know of it, and then watched it, because it had James McAvoy in it, and although I enjoyed the first series I didn't enjoy it enough to watch the others.

In any case, in the first episode of the first series James McAvoy takes off his trousers. Or rather, he unbuckles his belt. He does this in a kitchen, in the dark, as part of a slow and reasonably charged seduction. The scene is good, but the part that really stuck with me is the belt unbuckling (10:56 here). God (in my memory), I loved it! And what I loved was the sound. There was something about the clank of the metal being unbuckled that seemed to me unbelievably erotic. And ever since then I've had a thing for belts. I remember being disappointed that Mr. Fallen had a belt with a very modest buckle, and then even more disappointed when he told me that he didn't like big buckles. And I consider it one of the few failures of my FTT that he wears a belt with a sliding buckle:

I suppose it's more elegant - more sleek - but it removes
a certain kind of hardness from him, and it removes the possibility of a certain enjoyable complication. It seems to me that both these men, in their different ways, are closing off the pleasure of the tiny pause when the tooth has to pop out of the hole in the belt, the little distracting complexity when you have to get the leather out of the buckle, with the accompanying chink that lets you know what's been achieved and what's going to happen.

But here's the funny thing: I happened to re-watch that episode of Shameless a couple of days ago, and it turns out that James McAvoy's belt makes scarcely any noise at all! A discreet clink at best, rather than the baritone clunk I remembered. So I have got myself into a lather over something that never really existed in the first place!

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22 July 2010

Oh, Woe Is Me, to Have Seen What I Have Seen

I have just come from a terrible Hamlet. I mean terrible. Never mind that my last Hamlet was the one with David Tennant, which is an unfair comparison for whatever the next one is; never mind that I have seen many Hamlets and so judge new ones sternly. This Hamlet was TERRIBLE.

Where to start? Perhaps at the beginning, where they did not start, since they cut the first scene. So perhaps with the Claudius, who was bad. Or the Gertrude,
who looked like Mrs. Pepperpot. Or the Laertes, who had trouble enunciating his "r"s. But, no, let us start with the Hamlet, who was vastly too young, but who was one of those actors who would have been too young to play Hamlet no matter how old he got: he is always going to look about 15, until suddenly he looks about 60. Which meant that his Horatio, who was the right age for the part, looked vastly too old: you couldn't understand how they'd ever be friends.

Then let us move on to the Hamlet's acting. Weeeell...Hamlet is a difficult part. It seems to me one of those parts like Juliet, where you have to be older than the age of the character in order to play the emotion that the character experiences. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a Hamlet - barring one in a college production - younger than his mid-thirties. And to be fair, most Hamlets who aren't really good make the same poor acting choice and decide to play Hamlet's melancholy as anger or crabbiness. Maybe sadness is boring? The problem is, while sadness may be boring, peevishness is downright dull, so the sense I'm always left with in the face of Hamlets who act him crabby rather than melancholy is that they're not terribly interesting. And that's precisely the sense I had with this one, although it wasn't just that. As I said to my parents, once you get a Melancholy Dane who doesn't do melancholy, the only thing left to ask is, How was his Danish accent? and in this case the answer is, Not good. Which is to say, he was a good actor, but he wasn't a good actor for Hamlet. I could maybe see him as Tybalt, and he might be a good Romeo in a few years, but he just doesn't have whatever you need to have to be Hamlet. And he was about five feet four at a maximum, which didn't help.

Aside from that...well, sigh. The Ophelia was better than many Ophelias, but I doubt very much that when Hamlet says to her, "I never gave you ought," Shakespeare intended her to snap back, "You know right well you did!" And when the not very good Claudius played the ghost (who appeared in that perfectly plausible ghostly ensemble of armour breastplate, cardboard crown, thick chain with a big bunch of mortice keys on a ring, and large diaper) he was also not very good.

And, ah, they butchered the text. No fretful porpentine! No "Why, man, they did make love to this employment"! And apparently Old Hamlet compared to Claudius was "Hyperion to a satire," while Hamlet's blandishments to Ophelia were "springs to catch woodcocks." And I suppose that these days it is the custom to emphasise the cunt in "country matters," but the fact that it's the custom doesn't make it any better: it patronises the audience and ruins the joke (you can watch David Tennant do it in this clip).

I had a good deal of time during this production to think about what the experience was like, and in the end I decided: it was like watching the slow-motion slaughter of a group of guinea pigs. You'd think to yourself, Oh, surely not that one; that one's so cute! Then, But now, surely, not this one! This one's even cuter! And that's essentially what I thought. Oh, God, surely they're not going to butcher that scene, too! But they did! The arrival of Horatio? Bang! The harassment of Ophelia? Pyow! Hamlet's rout of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Boom!

I left at the interval.

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21 July 2010

Garden Chat

Yesterday a former student of mine and I met up for the last time here in Cambridge and went to the King's College Gardens to chat. In the course of the conversation we discovered that in both our experiences there is one thing that men and boys do not like to do, or perhaps simply do not do very well, and that is discuss changes in advance.

I will give you two quick examples from my own life. When Irishboyfriend was taking me back to Ireland to meet his family, he had no interest in discussing what might happen or what it might be like - this means that he displayed no discernible interest in dealing with some topics that, when I finally brought them up, turned out to be quite significant to deal with (I am Jewish. Should I mention it? Better not. I had been divorced. Could I mention it? NO). I don't mean he made snide comments about how these topics weren't important, or that when I tried to ask questions about what it would be like he was cutting; I mean it simply seemed never to occur to him that such a conversation could be relevant or useful. Similarly, although at a different level, both times that Dr. Higher and I moved house, he didn't start packing his stuff until a couple of days before - and I don't mean "his stuff" in the sense of "his clothes"; I mean "his stuff" in the sense of his many many books and desk belongings, etc. Moreover, in all my recollection I cannot think of one man I've known who has responded to a parting in the offing (which is how this topic came up, because my student has a boyfriend she must part from in a few days) by saying, "Okay, let me get your e-mail now, a week before you go, so I don't forget," or, "Right. Let's talk about how we might keep this friendship alive after you're gone." Conversely, all the women I know do at least some form of this.

This is weird. Are these men just putting things off because they don't want to think about them? Are they hopeless judges of time, so they always imagine there's more time than there actually is? Or do they simply have a ranking system in which change - which in my experience for everyone ends up being at least in part anxiety-provoking and concerning - is not concerning or does not register until it's too late? Which perhaps is another way of saying, Are men not very good at seeing ahead and guessing consequences and/or future possibilities? Which is possible, I suppose, but seems like a strange kind of life training, even if you take into account that the majority of men are raised to be more self-centred than the majority of women.

I think I will have to ask some men about this. Sometime in the future. Hahahaha.

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20 July 2010

My Neighbour

Well, world, I have a new neighbour! Only he's not really a new neighbour anymore, since he arrived more than a month ago; but he's newer than anyone else I know, so he's new by default.

As it happens, although my neighbour's arrival is a good thing, because he's highly delightful, it's also a bad thing, because my new neighbour is exactly the sort of person you don't want arriving a month before you leave: a smart (SUPER smart), funny, thoughtful, lively, interesting member of the opposite sex. Thanks, God! This misfortune is somewhat alleviated by the fact that my neighbour is not interested in being more than friends with me, but I think you can see how that is perhaps not as unmitigatedly delightful an alleviation as it might be. Thanks again, God!

Anyway (BUEno), this is all by the bye, because what I actually wanted to write about was my neighbour as an example, rather than a person. In my opinion, my neighbour is not good-looking. He has great hair, but not such a great face. I should say at this stage that other people think he's good-looking (I should say this because I don't want to do my neighbour a disservice, and I'm not known for my taste in men when it comes to looks). But in not being good-looking my neighbour is the first iteration of phenomenon I had heard of but never experienced myself. Once my neighbour starts talking, he becomes remarkably attractive, and after he's been talking for about ten or fifteen minutes he has become phenomenally attractive. You sit across from him, and you think, I can't believe it. This guy is so interesting, and so alive, and so interested in life, and he has such a way of being alive to and intrigued by his life, that he's just...fabulous. You could listen to my neighbour talk all day, and I think you would never get tired, or (perhaps) any less mentally stimulated: for one thing, and I want to make a point of saying this because of how noticeable it is, he is SO SMART. I've never met anyone as smart as he is; I'm frequently taken aback by it. And I've never known before what it is to think that someone would be good in bed because of how they are rather than because of how they look, or to be attracted to someone because of the way they conduct themselves rather than because of their face. Which, now that it's written down, is a very sad comment, but it also makes my neighbour kind of a cool addition to my life.

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02 July 2010

Welcome Back

I know: it's been a while. But I have been doing things and finishing things and starting things, and one way and another time got away from me.

First: it's World Cup time! As you may remember from previous posts, I am quite a football fan, and this Cup has yielded much enjoyment and many surprises. It's also yielded a good bit of tension, because I find myself (surprisingly) heavily invested in the German team. Is it leftover love of Miroslave Klose? Is it the German passport finally sinking in?

Is it the rather scary but also rather sexy black uniforms?

Is it the frankly-quite-sexy clothes horse Jogi Löw

and his fascinating determination to dress in partner look with his assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick?

Who can say? In any case, I am all for Germany, and tomorrow they play Argentina, and my tension level is high.

Meanwhile, present at all these matches is Mr. Heaven. I thought Mr. Heaven would be gone by now, and I'm frankly irritated that he's still around. For one thing, that's therefore three months of sex he's missed out on, and thus his stupidity is driven home afresh to me every day that he remains here. Also, he was scheduled to leave, and the part of me that really deserves that German passport likes people to leave when they're scheduled to.

The presence of Mr. Heaven has led me to a larger musing, though. These days, Mr. Heaven and I are pretending to be friends, largely because I just couldn't ignore him when we were in the same room: it was too stupid. Do I want to be friends? Not really. But it's a lot easier and less depressing than actively spurning him.

But here's the thing: it's weird. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's wee-uhd (the ultimate of weird). Mr. Heaven saw me naked! And I saw him naked! Although, admittedly, I hardly remember what he looked like now, I do remember that I did see him. Yet we converse as if that never happened, as if he hadn't put his tongue in my mouth, and seen me naked, and watched me under him, as if I hadn't put my arms and legs around his naked person (now that I do remember doing). But I haven't forgotten it, and so every time I engage in this pointless chit chat with him I'm thinking, You saw me naked. And it wasn't just accidental, like when someone's your friend and then one night it all gets out of hand. The point of our connection was to see each other naked. And now we stand in spaces, and sometimes talk in spaces, as if we were and always have been casual friends. And, okay, that's very mature (I guess), but it's also just plain weird. Because it's not "staying" friends, or even accepting that we were actually just meant to be friends: it's not extending something that's natural.

I just find something deeply odd about being friends with someone who's seen you naked for sexual purposes, and whose sole purpose was to see you that way. I don't see myself ever watching a football match with Mr. Heaven without thinking, We've seen each other naked, and then we stopped for no reason. How do you readjust after that? So maybe it's not the nakedness so much as the random halt to it.

Now, the question is, does it work in reverse? Do I find something deeply odd about the idea of commencing a romantic or sexual relationship with someone who was a friend first? I've never done this, and manufacturing the situation in my imagination I'd have to say, Yes, I do find it odd. I mean, the person was your friend! And now they're not! That may take some readjustment, too.

So perhaps my issue is with readjustment, not with naked seeing, or sexual doings, or friendship and nudity.

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Oh, Dear

I don't want to leave.

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06 June 2010

What a Novel Idea!

Reader, I am writing a novel. Or rather, I have been writing a novel for quite some time: first actual writing, then having it on the back burner, and now actual writing again.

Writing a novel, reader, is haaaaaaard work. I have, in fact, written one before, long ago, and it was thought to be good: it got an agent, and it got sent out to publishers. But no publisher took it, and I'm not surprised, because when I came to rewrite it in the cold fall of 2008 (see how I just got a little literary there?) I realised it wasn't very good at all, and I had to add to, alter, and generally improve it substantially. And that was haaaaard work. The thing about novels is, the beginning is pretty difficult, but it's doable; the end is easy; but the middle is a vast and spreading mystery.

ANYway (BUEno), writing a novel is even an odder thing, I think, if you are a literary critic by trade, because you (or at least I) can't help wondering what critics might find in your own text. So I thought tonight, What would critics have to say about what I write? Well, if we ignore my short stories (which always feature a dead person) and just work on the novels, I guess one thing they'd find notable is that the protagonists of both my novels are only children. Is this wish fulfillment, or avoidance (no sisterly relationships to have to make up), or simply self-centredness? I am very self-centred, and I'm inclined to think the last, although I think it may also be simple disinterest. I've edited my sister out of my life that she rarely impinges on my consciousness (realising that gives me enormous pleasure, actually. That's a great hassle expunged).

I think a critic might also notice that both my protagonists live in houses. They don't live in flats, and they're both married. I think this is because I believe married people own houses. Obviously many married people live in flats, but in my imagination married couples live in houses - it's where they belong (a couple of years ago I also discovered, to my distress, that I believe husbands are older than wives: this despite the fact that I'd had a long relationship with someone younger).

But aside from the flats and the only children, my books don't have much in common. Well, the protagonists are both women and both about my age, but those are scarcely
remarkable. Alas, I am a dud for future critics. So perhaps it's just as well that I haven't published.

Oddly, I remember now that the most subtextually fruitful thing I ever wrote was a story about two brothers, one of whom ended up killing the other. Jennifer was convinced it was about me and my sister, until I told
her I'd written about the Oasis brothers!

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05 June 2010


Also, can I just say that I really like walking around the house in underwear and high heels? I always have liked walking the house in my underwear, but only recently, because of the fan dancing, have I been doing it in high heels. For me, it combines freedom with control in pretty much the perfect way.

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Not So Much with The Killer Inside Me, Thanks

This afternoon I betook myself to the cinema to see "The Killer Inside Me." Don't ask why I went - there are some films I just want to see, for no clear reason: the last one was "Watchmen." I also like a good psychopath film. So off I went to the mid-afternoon sow (I also very much like going to the pictures during the day).

Weeeell...I'm not sure what to make of "The Killer Inside Me." Casey Affleck was very good, but that didn't surprise me. Jessica Alba was not very good, and that did surprise me, because I had a shadowy memory that one critic had said she was very good. But the performances were not the problem: the problem was sort of the film itself.

The protagonist is a medium-town junior sheriff who is a secret sadist: he likes to spank women (and I don't mean saucy spanking; I mean hard), and, it's implied, also to slap them around and burn them. At the beginning of the film he enters into a consensual sado-masochistic relationship with a prostitute, and later on it's revealed that he also has a consensual sado-masochistic relationship with his fiancée. He (believes he) kills the prostitute as part of a not-particularly-interesting plot he cooks up, and he later kills his fiancée for no particular reason that I could discern - or perhaps for the also not-particularly-interesting reason that he could then blame it on someone who was blackmailing him.

There is a lot of violence against women in this film. But with the exception of the quite striking punch with which the protagonist fells his fiancée (the punch seems to kill her, but she takes a long time to die), all of it is consensual, or at least submitted to without complaint. There are also several scenes that suggest that he was encouraged into sadism by his childhood house help, and that his father liked it, too. For these reasons, it was very difficult for me to see what I was to take from the film. At first I thought it might be that the line between normality and psychopathy is very thin, but given that the protagonist was portrayed as so unemotional, that seemed very unlikely (he wasn't very close to normal). Was I supposed to gather from it (and via it from the book it was based on) that all women are masochists, or that all women like to be abused? That sadists are made, not born? Or that they're born, not made? I just didn't know.

The other difficulty I had was that, although it was obviously meant to be a film noir, it just wasn't very noir. Perhaps film noir can't exist on colour film (I thought while watching the film); there seems to be something about colour that makes everything too fresh, too not-seedy. Or perhaps it simply wasn't a very noir film. For all its protagonist's double life, and the swift violence, and th beautiful dame and the canny police hunt, it wasn't particularly scary, or atmospheric, or, frankly, involving.

So in the end what I took from "The Killer Inside Me" is that Elias Koteas, who had a small role and who was the only person in the whole film who looked human, and weary, and weathered enough to be noir, is an excellent actor. But I already knew that, because I saw him as Gary Gilmore years ago, and years before that as something else, and in both cases he was terrific.

You may be wondering about my job interview. Well, it went...okay. And the town where the job would be is just delightful: I liked it very much. So at this point I'd say I hope I get it, but I don't think I will. It's not that I think I won't; it's just that the interview didn't go so well that I feel certain, or certain to any degree. Still, I have my fingers crossed. REALLY crossed.
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02 June 2010

Ceci N'est Pas Mon Amour

Today came my copy of the new Divine Comedy cd. Although there are many things to love about this cd (not least the fact that it's decorated with a facsimile of Magritte's pipe painting, altered to say, "Ceci n'est pas la divine comedie"), reading the liner notes for the bonus disc (!!), extracts from the 2009 performances in Paris (!!! I was there!!!) led me to reflect that being in a relationship with Neil Hannon would be rather like spending the rest of my life with Mr. Fallen: a constant stream of self-deprecating comments and disclaimers. Or perhaps that is just an assumed persona, and he is in fact hugely egotistical. Either way, not good.

The celebrity partner field is thinning, my friends: no David Tennant; now (although it breaks my heart) no Neil Hannon. The only option left is Kim Rossi Stuart, an actor once so good looking it actually hurt my eyes to look at him, but now just an incredibly handsome bloke (although not in his Wikipedia photo!) about whom I don't yet know enough to have him unmasked.

I see that Kim Rossi Stuart's Wikipedia page says he "speaks English, French and Italian, is an accomplished swimmer and also plays the trumpet." Leaving aside the question of what makes "an accomplished swimmer" ("I can float with the best of them!"), I ask, "Yes, but can he fan dance?"

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28 May 2010

I Say I Say I Say

Lately I've been reading a good deal of disappointing contemporary literature. I read A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel, and I liked it so much that I ordered Fludd, which sounded like the other of her books I would like best. But in fact I find Fludd kind of tedious: it persistently reminds me of a less-successful version of The Ballad of Peckham Rye, a book I absolutely adore. I think I probably just love TBoPR because of its protagonist, Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, one can't say which - which is part of his charm), because I generally find Muriel Spark pretty dreary, or at least over-rated (as my friend MF put it, "She's good, but she's not all that and a bag of chips") - it's her Catholicism, which is also the reason why I dislike P.D. James: both of them have a sort of hectoringly aloof tone that I associate with attempting to point you toward religious morals in their works (Graham Greene, I think, wears his Catholicism much more lightly. But then, Brighton Rock can do no wrong in my eyes, and Graham Greene has the benefit of wearing his Catholicism shall we say lightly in his life). In any case, Fludd is rather leaden, or it might be better to say heavy and dour, and I find myself not enjoying it very much.

And today I read Little Gods, by Jacob Polley. Jacob Polley was brought to my attention because he's up for a first novel prize, and he is, frankly, good-looking (in his publicity photo, anyway). When I found out he'd started off as a poet, and when I found a sample poem on the internet, I thought I'd give one of his books a go: I like contemporary poetry, or at least I'm interested in it (although, as with most contemporary literature, I don't know how to analyse it, only how to read it for enjoyment or lack thereof).

Weeeell, what can you do? It's...okay. There's one quite interesting poem (the one that lured me in), and three or four that are quite good. But the three or four that are quite good are about lost love, and if you can't write a poem that touches about lost love, what can you write a poem that touches about? Also, I feel sort of miffed at being touched by the poems about lost love, because it makes me feel like an easy mark. And the ones that aren't about lost love are simply not that interesting to me. The Liberal loved the book, but here the Liberal and I must diverge.

At first I thought I might have disliked it because, having now been a Romanticist for some eight years, I am a prisoner of conventional verse forms, but in fact I suppose it's because it's one of those poetry books that lingers in musing contemplation, and I, well, I've never been one for musing contemplation in poetry. Obviously one might have guessed this from my allegiance to that famous writer of meditative verse, Lord Byron, but even when I think of contemporary poetry I do like, it's got some oomph to it:

Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let's show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let's tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line 'Just like blood'.
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.

My father would hate this poem: he'd say it's coercive, or easy, or something along those lines. But not me, baby! I'm not quite sure what this poem is trying to do, or what its point is, but it has force, and an energy that drives it along to its end point. I think that energy is the energy of unkindness, a kind of willful taunting ugliness, but it's there. Whereas the Polley poems seem inert. I didn't really know what to do with them.

Which leads me to wonder something I've wondered all along: how do you handle it if you don't like the creative work of someone you know? If I knew someone whose poetry was essential to them, who worked at their "art," and I didn't much care for it (never mind out-and-out hated it), I don't think I could be friends with them. It would just involve too much hypocrisy, and too much denial of their essence. When I lived in Otherhome, I knew a man in the creative writing program who was close friends with a woman, also in the creative writing program, whose fiction stunk. It was unimaginative; it was banal; it was unthinking. And I used to think, Does she just not show it to him? Because if she showed it to him he'd have to know it was awful, and then how could he continue being friends with her? I mean, I could understand if it were just your hobby, but if someone's really committed to writing, and you know they're just harbouring illusions...ouch.

In other news, I have an itchy place on the top of my good foot that just won't quit.

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25 May 2010


I have something to say. In fact, I have two somethings to say, but I'm not sure about the worth of saying the second, so for now I'll just say the first.

There is a good deal of chit-chat around and about - by which I mean in magazines and other media organs - about how one should be "happy" before one seeks a partner, or about how the trick to finding a good partner is to be "happy" before you start. This pisses me off: I would like someone to define happy, please.

Does "happy" mean, "satisfied with yourself and who you are"? Does it mean, "happy with the life you have"? Does it mean, "having a good time with your friends and not waiting to enjoy your life until you have a partner"? Does it mean, "feeling mentally rich and stimulated"? Because if it means those things, I agree, and I'm happy. As it happens, I do love the life I have at the moment, and what with the Sheffield interview, the Divine Comedy concerts behind and before me, and the current supervisions, I'm having a blast when I'm doing stuff.

But I think sometimes that in this context "happy" means, "perfectly content to be alone." And this I think is ridiculous. Am I happy in my life, with many interests, and glad of them, with strong friendships and a sense of myself as a person of worth (also, incidentally, proud that I made myself that way)? Hells yes, as they say down Otherhome way. But that does not cancel out, nor indeed is it some kind of opposite of, feeling that I want a partner. Indeed, as I've said before here, a good deal of the reason why I want a partner is because I find my life so interesting and happy, and I want to share it with someone who there's for all of it (well, quite a lot of it). Most of the reason why I want a partner, when I think about it, is to have someone I can make happy, not vice versa.

I know no one, really, who's just as happy without a partner as they are with one, or who doesn't care one way or the other. Wanting a partner is natural, and if you are, like me, someone who finds life richer when told to another, or when it's told to you by another, or when shared with another, or when it involves making another happy, then it's equally natural to be unhappy not to have that opportunity. If you mean that before you can have a successful partnership you must be happy in your life and self, I'm behind you. But I refuse to feel bad or a failure because, in a totally different realm from my sense of self, I am unhappy to be single.

And now I find I do want to say the second thing. In the six weeks since whatever it was happened with Mr. Heaven, not one person has told me, "I know it's hard." People have told me he's a fool, that I'm better off without him, that I'll find someone better, that I undervalue myself, that he's a weirdo, that he's not good enough for me... but not one person has said to me, "It must be very painful to have been happy, and to have wanted so much to be happy, and to have that opportunity removed. I understand that it's hurtful to like someone and not have anywhere for that liking to go. It must be terrible, too, to not be able to have sex." No one has said, "Wow, I understand that it's really painful to like someone, and then to discover they're an idiot, so you have the double pain not just of having to stop liking someone, but also of discovering that they weren't worth your liking. Or even the treble pain of knowing they're not worth it, and were never worth it, but still liking them, and being mystified and embarrassed. It's understandable that you would still continue to like them or hope to see them - and I know that's awful, too. I understand that this is really hard, that all of it is just awful and hard and painful." I have no doubt that to some extent I've brought this on myself by not talking much about this situation, and by seeming a tough person generally. Also, I don't know how much better it would have made things if someone had said that, but I can't help feeling it would have made it at least a little better.

There's an episode of "Murphy Brown," in which the upright anchor Jim Dial, through a series of perfectly innocuous circumstances, ends up having his picture taken with a prostitute. The picture is published, the media all talk about it, and no one is interested in his explanation of what really happened: they prefer the salacious rumours. In the end, he uses his segment of their TV show to address this, and in essence he says, "Everyone is impressed with the idea that I'm immoral; no one else cares that I've led a moral life. Well, if no one else will say it, I will: 'Good for me.' I've never done drugs. Good for me. I've never cheated on my wife. Good for me." This is one of my favourite episodes.

Well, I'm going to take a leaf out of Jim Dial's book. I know it's hard to be disappointed when you really hoped you were going to be happy for a bit, and when you already had had a taste of that possible happiness. I know it's hard to face having nothing when you could have had something, no matter how small that something. I know how clawingly, agonisingly frustrating it must be to long to have sex and not be able to. I know it's humiliating to keep liking someone after they've been unmasked as a wanker, and I know it's possible and painful to keep liking them despite your own wishes. And I think it's understandable to miss someone you once liked, and I can see how, at the same time, one might be embarrassed over that missing. I know how hard this is for me, and how painful, and how sorrowful. I think it must be really awful.

And good for me.

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19 May 2010


Did I tell you I have a job interview? Well, I do: I have a job interview. And since this is my very first UK job interview, it involves nearly all the preparation and memorisation that was required for my first US job interviews: memorising my teaching philosophy (oh, please!), interests of department members, descriptions of my book...

I very rarely think of a partner as a necessity. That is, I have no trouble living my life without a partner, and I even enjoy it quite a lot: I would say that unless I'm meditating gloomily on my single state I really only actively miss having a partner when I get into bed, when I want someone to talk to before I get into bed, when I take my seat in a theatre, or when I go on holiday to Venice. A partner is, thus, a luxury for me. But, in doing all this preparation, I am reminded of one of the ways in which a partner is not a luxury but a real part of one's life. The last time I did all this prep, Dr. Higher and I were living together, and he had to test me. He didn't want to, in the sense of being interested, but this is one of the things partners do: they are there, closest, and so they test you. Of course, now I have friends who'd do it, but I have to ring them up, it's easier to do it myself, etc., etc.

So I kind of miss Dr. Higher a little. Or it might be better to say I'm aware, maybe for the first time, of something elemental that he offered me.

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13 May 2010

I've Been to a Marvellous Party

About five years ago, when YouTube started being YouTube, I went on there for the first time. I decided that I'd look for concert footage of Prefab Sprout, because I'd never seen them live. So I typed in the required words, and...there they were!

I couldn't believe it. I visually could not believe it: I was seeing them in concert, crisply and vividly, seeing something I never thought I'd see in my life.

And I cried.

Many years ago now, I went to see Aztec Camera with my then-husband (maaaany years ago). We sat up in the balcony; we were so far away from the stage that when Roddy Frame came on the only part of his face I could see were his eyebrows, because they were darker than everything else. But still - I had only liked Aztec Camera while I lived in the U.S., and no one in the U.S. knew who Aztec Camera were: they certainly were never going to tour there. I'd thought I'd go my whole life without ever seeing Roddy Frame live. And I cried.

Tonight I went into London to see the Divine Comedy. As you know, I've seen the Divine Comedy twice, both times from very close up. But this stage was on the same level as the spectators, whereas the last two were raised. I've thought to be many things in my life, but I never thought to be a self-and-a-half's distance from Neil Hannon, close enough to see the colour of his eyes and the way his cheekbones poke out under his skin. And (ah, but you know where this is going...) I cried.

Aside from that, he was wonderful, and it was wonderful. Wonderful.

But what did he look like? you'll want to know. Well, he was tiny. Tiny. I couldn't believe it! And his hands were tiny, too. And he had what O.M. would call blond hair, but I would call light brown. And he wore a suit with cloth-covered buttons, which to me denotes a certain attention to detail in the making - or at least makes it an unusual suit. And, strangely, brown shoes, although the suit was black. Hm.

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07 May 2010

All the Neil Hannon in the World Can't...

I am a less nice person than I used to be. I felt this a couple of weeks ago - or it might be better to say I recognised that a good deal of my niceness had gone a couple of weeks ago. I have less interest in and patience with other people's sorrows, or even just their lives; I have less interest in the world around me, and in living my life in an interesting way; I have less interest in talking to other people. I see these things about myself, and I don't like it.

I know in part exactly why this is. I know I'm much angrier than I was even a month ago: I've always been an angry person, but now I can feel that anger nearly coming out, and I can feel myself making an effort to control it. And, of course, everything I've described in the paragraph above is a symptom of depression, and of course I am depressed. Depressed, and angry, and both of these things I'm unable to resolve for myself rationally because they are both justified and mystified. I'm sure this will pass - time heals all wounds; it really does, actually. But I can feel myself being unkind and thoughtless and just...less nice now, and I wish I weren't.

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What It Is to Love

I have sometimes - very occasionally - one of the most pleasurable sensations of my life. I will read something, or a hear a song, that is so funny, and perfect in its funniness - the wit is unexpected, but utterly apt, and because unexpected is much more perfect than it would be if anticipated - that it is, in the true sense of the word, delightful. My sensation at these moments is that my throat is full, in a curious way: full of something sticky and sweet that threatens to bubble out (like Lamia, I suppose, whose voice was like "bubbling honey in her throat"). And always what I want to do at the moment of reading or hearing such things is to kiss the producer. This happened once with Mr. Fallen, who wrote a conference review filled with puns, and it happens sometimes with Byron. I write about it now because it happened with The Divine Comedy's new song, "Indie Disco." To other people, I'm sure, it would just be a nice song, or even a clever song, but to me it's filled with...such rightness, that is at the same time a surprise: "Then hit the floor for 'Tainted Love'/ You know I just can't get enough"; "She makes my heart beat the same way / As at the start of 'Blue Monday'". And I wish Neil Hannon were here, so I could lean over and kiss him every time his song delights me.

This is what love is, I think, distilled for a moment and into a moment. You think to yourself, "This person is perfect; this person is absolutely right." For just that moment you see the outline of their superiority clearly; they come into crystal focus for you, the way they surprise and delight and, in a funny way, comfort you (because part of the delight comes from the aptness, you think, "Ah, yes, of course!", a comfort you didn't know you wanted). It's love turned from a constant support to a sharp blade.

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05 May 2010

The Intimate Lives of Germans

Well, reader, I have been thinking about a broad array of things. This weekend was the Cambridge Tango Festival, which draws tango dancers from near and far, and as the weekend progressed I noticed that a number of the men I asked to dance, or who asked me to dance, were German. I didn't know this about them before we started dancing, but discovered it while we were dancing (in the pauses between songs, when we chatted).

About two months ago, I said to my friend C., "At the moment, I have a little space free in my heart for Germans," and she replied thoughtfully, "You always have a little space in your heart for Germans." At the time I laughed, but also thought that it was true, and now I think to myself that I may, in fact, have a lot of space in my heart for Germans.

In one way, this is surprising. Dr. Higher was German, and he brought with him many, if not all, of the most unpleasant aspects of Germanity: he was rigid in his beliefs and convictions; he was convinced of his own superiority; he scheduled everything (and I mean EVERYTHING); he did and believed everyone should do "the done thing," and he believed that it was absolutely clear what "the done thing" was (when I tried to friend him on facebook two years after we broke up, he sent me an e-mail telling me that "everyone knows" exes don't friend each other on facebook. Indeed, "everyone knows" was one of his favourite phrases). I did not like any of these things about him, and they weren't any nicer in real life than they sound on blog.

Yet I stayed with him, and even now I miss him when I want someone to speak German to, or our weird version of German to (who else can I tell that I'm going to das Gym, or that I've had a Nachtpferd?), or when I want to talk about German politics - or I miss being able to understand German politics through him. And Mr. Heaven was/is German, and there's another nice boy here, vastly too young for me but likeable as a friend, and I know part of the reason I like him is because he's German.

In another way, though, this liking of Germans is not surprising at all. I by no means grew up in a German milieu, but for the first seven years of my life there was a lot of Germanity in my background: we would go visit my grandparents, where if German wasn't spoken the German accent was thick, and we celebrated a German Christmas there, and ate zwieback when we were little, and I certainly heard my mother and grandparents speaking German to each other (indeed, a couple of weeks ago when Mr. Heaven tried to shut me out of a conversation on the couch while we watching football by carrying on said conversation in murmured German
with a mutual friend, I was struck and puzzled by how soothing that sound was, then surmised that it must be because murmured German would have been a background to a fair number of fallings-asleep at my grandparents. Too bad you can't ask someone to shut you out MORE, or I would have asked him to speak that way all the time). And now I'm stuck with the German football team, too, after that World Cup in Whateverthatcitywaswithallthehills. And, of course, I'm terribly German myself: stubborn as the day is long - yes, rigid - given to fits of rage if things don't happen on time, a fine complainer, and filled with the conviction that I know how to do everything right.

So perhaps it's no surprise that I have a space in my heart for Germans. Although whether I want a German to fill that space and more is a different issue.

And thus we come - as everyone knows we should - to intimacy. BF recently got tenure (hurrah!), and for some reason I was thinking yesterday about her job, and about how we make job choices generally. BF is very shy, and she's ended up being a laboratory scientist: I couldn't help feeling that the result might have been dictated by psychological desires. Forgive me if this is wrong, BF, but don't worry, because what I really want to talk about is what I did next, which is (unsurprisingly) turned the torch on myself. If her career choice says things about her psychological desires and fears, mine must do the same about me; what does my career choice say about me?

I love my job, but the part of it I love best of all is the teaching. Well, what do you get in teaching? Here is where these thoughts took a not-so-pleasant turn, because I realised that what you get from teaching is a forum in which, although you stand revealed in front of a group of people, you get to control that act of revelation. In teaching you choose what you'll show and what you won't - and if you do it right you get enormous love with very little revelation. What's more, in teaching the intimacy is all one way: I learn immense amounts about my students, but unless they are keen amateur psychologists and highly observant, they learn very little about me except what I choose to tell them.

Later in the day, I was reading an article on the internet that said we tend to mock or push away in others things we fear in ourselves. I already knew that, but this time I thought about the possible inverse of that: does that mean that we embrace in others those things we like in ourselves, or that we embrace others who mirror what we like in ourselves? I think it does mean that, and I think it also means we embrace those who allow us to continue to do those things in ourselves that we like. And I had a bit of a think about the men I'd been involved with, and all of a sudden I thought to myself, I think I'm afraid of intimacy.

I know: I spill my guts on this blog. But that's anonymous, isn't it? And even leaving that aside, let's have a look back. I loved Irishboyfriend, and in many ways we were intimate with each other, but he was sarcastic, and critical, and both those things tend to make one hesitant to confide and reluctant to show weakness (both of which I was). Dr. Higher was extremely critical, but what's more important is that I never really loved him, and for almost all our relationship I knew with confidence that I was superior to him: hardly a recipe for intimacy, either. As for Mr. Heaven, if you look back at the first entry I ever wrote about him, you can see that I was aware he was not a candidate for intimacy. And didn't he prove it with gusto in the end!

The only exception here is Mr. Fallen, with whom I made a real effort to be intimate, and whom I really loved. But he lived in England, and I in the States, so how intimate did I really have to be? Plus, the therapist before this one told me once that people find it incredibly hard to break their pyschological patterns, no matter how unpleasant those patterns may be - we prefer the devil we know. So perhaps I attempted to break my pattern with Mr. Fallen, then lapsed back.

I performed the litmus test and imagined telling this theory to the therapist. I didn't want to tell her so strongly that I think there must be at least something to it.

So, in the end, here is the conclusion I draw: at least in part, like most sneaky subconsciouses, my sneaky subconscious has devised a way to get what it wants while still looking good. I think I pick people who are not designed to give me intimacy, because that way I can avoid having intimacy whilst claiming it's not my fault. I look as if I don't have an intimacy problem, but I do.

No that I think that's the only reason I choose the people I do. I'm attracted to people physically, or intellectually, or they make me laugh (the bastards! that's how they really get me). But I do keep quite tight control of my public self, and even my private self, and it's true that I'm a very private person, and quite unforthcoming about the things that really matter to me. So, yes, I do think I have some intimacy problems.

On a more cheerful to end with, here's a photo of a tiny car that M. took for me in Holland. Look at how tiny it is! It's tiny!

God, I love tiny cars.

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27 April 2010

Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It

Two of my students are either involved with each other or flirting around each other, and it's quite charming to watch. I approve of love: as an entity, particularly an entity newly springing into being, it's hard to resent.

Somehow connected to this, a friend has recently been troubled about...well, I think "about behaviour" might be the best way to put it. Although I guess it's about romantic and sexual behaviour in particular, I think it might really be about that giant and ever-looming question, "Should I be a good person?" and its corollary, "What does that mean, anyway?"

I'm not sure what it means to be a good person, or what it means to be a moral person. I don't tend to do terribly well with morality, but I do very well with principles. I'm not much interested in questions of good and bad (morality), but I'm quite interested in questions of right and wrong, because right and wrong seem easier to sort out: if something is right, I know it when I check inside myself. But perhaps that just substitutes "right" for "good," as many things I think of as "right" are probably what other people would think of as "good."

It doesn't seem to me that you are "good" or "bad" because you behave in certain sexual ways. But it does seem to me that you are happy or unhappy, and that you are able to think about what might make someone else happy or unhappy, and that things that produce happiness are right (although not necessarily good!), while those that don't are wrong. Cheating on your boyfriend: wrong, not for moral reasons, but because it will make someone else unhappy. Being promiscuous: right, if it makes you happy; wrong, if it makes you or the other participants unhappy. It seems to me that a lot of the behaviour my friend considers good isn't really good, but it is really geared to making you happier: sex is generally better with someone you know, so random pick-ups probably make you unhappier than waiting for someone you know and like, even if the happiness is simply the happiness of having a richer sexual experience. Doing stuff because you don't really care one way or the other doesn't make you unhappier, but it doesn't increase your happiness, so why bother?

I don't know. I have tried almost all my adult life to be a good person - I realise that this sort of clashes with what I said above, but when I say "good" here I mean, I have tried to do the right thing; I have tried not to hurt people; I have behaved sensibly; I have tried to be honourable and decent (I have done many things I am sorry for, too, although few I regret, and I certainly don't regret any of my sexual behaviour) - but I do not see this making me any happier than if I had been a "bad" person. And I don't see "bad" people - people who don't think before they act; people who don't care about being decent - being any unhappier than "good" ones. For a long time I believed that if I was good life would bring me a reward: essentially, I believed in some form of God or divine balancer. Now this is a belief I cannot shake, but I know it's not true. Now, with my hands bloody with the Mr. Heaven I can't wash off, I believe that being a good person makes you less happy than being a bad person, because good people think more, and thinking and being able to access your emotions is what makes you unhappy (I believed that before him, too, but not while). And I am unhappier knowing this than I would have been if I'd never tried to be a good person.

I asked S.A. if men prefer good girls, and he said, quite rightly and sensibly, that the girl preferred depends on the man preferring. On a similar note, I'd say that troubling over whether to be good or not is only worth it if you're troubled by your lack of what you perceive as goodness. There's little point in trying to conform to cultural morality; it'll never fit you. You can only ever feel comfortable in your own morality (or your own principles!). I should imagine that there are plenty of men out there who are delighted to sleep with bad girls; you needn't go good because you think it'll get you more tail. Indeed, I daresay quite the opposite is true. But you ought to try to be good if it feels right to you (a-ha! see how that worked out?). Because what's right is what's decent (although the reverse is not necessarily true), and what's decent is what's good.

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Girl Talk

Jamaica Kincaid has a great short story called "Girl," which is essentially a compendium of advice a mother gives a daughter. We PracCrit-ed this today, and it made me think of what how I would write such a piece, using the advice my mother gave me. One of the good things about Kincaid's story is that a good deal of the advice must have been passed down simply by observation - the daughter watching the mother and learning by non-verbal osmosis. So I tried to include that, too. Kincaid's piece has a purposive and designed narrative structure, but mine does not.

If you get gum on a piece of clothing, put it in the freezer, then pick the hardened gum off; if you accidentally dye something in the wash use Rit to get the dye out; wait a few minutes if the butter's too hard, because it melts quickly; keep cream cold when you're whipping it; make sure you don't get anything in the egg white you want to beat; there are dishes for the kitchen and there are dishes for the dining room; paper napkins are for everyday, cloth napkins are for best; cotton sheets are nicest, although they wrinkle; put your tights in the freezer for a day, then wash them, and they'll never run; always wash fabric after you buy it, so it can shrink before you make the piece of clothing; this is how you hem; this is how you slipstitch; when you go out somewhere important wear high heels; when you go to the opera or the ballet wear a skirt; don't buy a white winter coat; don't speak loudly if you don't need to; don't wear too much blush or people will think you're a hooker; this is how you talk to someone you like; this is how you talk to someone you want to make like you; this is how you talk to someone whose name you can't remember; listen carefully when someone tells a story; if you want boys to like you, be less spikey; before you break up with someone be sure you can't save the relationship; always wear a bra or else your breasts will sag; the last five pounds are the hardest; remember that sometimes your partner gets to make the decision; never let a man support you, but always make money of your own; remember that a long marriage ends up more like a close friendship; this is how to be kind to someone; this is how to be unkind to someone; this is how to apologise for being unkind to someone; this is how not to care that you have been unkind; remember to wait until everyone is served before you start to eat; don't stand up to make sure everyone is taking food, you are not a maid; don't speak in a language unless all members of the group know it; don't comb your hair in public; don't put on lipstick in public; don't wear red lipstick in the daytime; cover your mouth when you yawn; cover your mouth when you cough; animal prints are for trashy women and old ladies; always buy a new dress for a relative's wedding; never buy bouclé, because all it takes is one snag and it's ruined; this is how you get something out of your father; this is how you get something out of me; this is how you figure out how to get things out of other people; this is why you love your child even if she's not loveable; never say anything unkind about someone else's child, because they will hold it against you forever; this is how you give a child cold medicine; if you feel nauseous, put a trashcan by the bed just in case; this is how you keep a house clean; this is how you keep a house clean enough; this is how you do things efficiently; this is how you do things quickly; this is how you do things too quickly; this is how you make meringue; this is how you make roast beef; this is how you make scrambled eggs, not too loose, like your grandmother's; nur nicht alt werden; not everything is worth fighting for; always use birth control; therapy is good; don't do that - it's not nice.

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26 April 2010

Song Lyrics

Tonight a group of friends and I sat around and sang songs to guitar accompaniment - well, really, we accompanied the guitar. I love to sing, so I enjoyed this very much. One of the songs we sang was "Hallelujah." I love this song because it's so rich in biblical reference, but I also love it, in a bittersweet way, because of the lines in which he says, "Maybe there's a God above, / But all I've ever learned from love / Is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you." I've always hoped that there will come a time in my life when those lines won't be true for me, but there never has.

However, it's not all doom and gloom on the song front, because when I got back from the singing I got on Spotify for the first time. Unsurprisingly, I thought I'd begin by typing in The Divine Comedy. More surprisingly (to myself, although perhaps not to you), I thought I'd try listening to "Perfect Lovesong." I used to adore this song and listen to it all the time, but after Mr. Fallen I couldn't. I think Neil Hannon might have written it on his honeymoon, but in any case it contains the couplet, "We'll stumble back to our hotel bed, / And we'll make love to each other 'til we're half dead." The only places Mr. Fallen and I ever stayed together were hotel rooms, and we spent a lot of time doing just that, so understandably after we parted those lines had an unpleasant resonance - in fact, I stopped listening to the song because I would hear those lines coming and feel like I was getting stabbed in the stomach. But tonight, after two and a quarter years, I find I can listen to them. Maybe it's not my favourite song, but I can more than manage it. So time really does heal wounds.

The Divine Comedy also have the distinction of writing the song that contains the moment I most earnestly, but also most secretly, wish would happen to me. It's called "Geronimo," and it's about two lovers who have to run through the rain. They run to his flat, and the song ends with Hannon saying, "She puts on a record, / And sings into her coffee;/ He puts a blanket round her, / Sits her down, and dries her beautiful hair." It's not the blanket, or the sitting down, or funnily enough exactly any of it. It's the beautiful hair. I have an embarrassed hope, very quietly and abashedly, that someday a man will dry my gigantic, impossible hair, and tell me it's beautiful.

In any case, hurray! for song-singing. Let's do more of it. And what the hell: let's have a photo of Neil Hannon, because he's fab.

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13 April 2010

Going Home

I arrived in America at 4pm on Saturday - to be specific I arrived at the Chicago airport. Even before I got through to the airport, it transpired that my airline had cancelled my forward flight a couple of days beforehand, without ever informing me. This meant that I had to call the friend who was picking me up to let her know I'd be getting later. But when I tried to use my (American) credit card to make a phone call, the phone endlessly informed me that it was "checking billing data," and never connected. I then tried to e-mail her using one of the airport terminal ancient internet computers, but when I stuck my (American) credit card into the slot provided, the terminal informed me that there had been an "error while transferring my billing data." There didn't seem to be any problem when I bought a cup of tea at the Starbucks, so all I could think to myself was how American to have these communication devices that look just fine but then don't work. And how American to expect everyone to carry their own computer (because there were just four internet terminals in the entire airport), and so not to bother to get newer, better public terminals.

And everyone was fat. EVERYONE. And the airport was so big, and so ugly, and so filled with places where you could ONLY buy ugly prepackaged food. And I was zombified with tiredness and confusion, and filled with sorrow, and I thought, I hate America.

And then I got here, to Otherhome. And we went out for dinner at a restaurant that had TV's on both sides of the booth, and when I got up in the morning it was 70 degrees (21c) at 10am, and EVERYONE was fat, or wearing a baseball cap, and all the men were unattractive, and everyone looked thick (physically) or uninterested or uninteresting and when I went into a place I knew to get a piece of cheesecake to go the waitress said to me, "It's a gorgeous day outside - now you be sure to find some sunny spot to eat that!" and I thought to myself, It's fucking 80 degrees (26c) outside; how can you call it a beautiful day, and where isn't there a sunny spot? and then I felt like a terrible person for getting angry over what this nice person had said. And then I went into my department today, and it was baking hot outside in APRIL, and there was so much unnecessary room, and all the students looked intellectually dead and...and...and it's not my home, and I don't want to be here, and...and.

I hate this country. I don't want to live here. It's weird, and too glossy, and filled with the wrong kind of bigness, and I don't fit anymore. I hate it here.

Overprivileged, gift-horse-in-the-mouth-looking, shameful me. I don't want to be here. I don't want to be here.

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09 April 2010

Exile from Heaven

So, for the past ten weeks I have been hanging in tension about a romantic relationship. You may remember Senor Cielo, from many months ago. Well, for a few weeks from early December to mid-January we were "involved" - which is to say we met a few times for tea and biscuits, and to kiss, and then we had sex once. And then he disappeared to write up his dissertation. In fact, the last real contact I had with him for about twelve weeks was when we arranged to meet again, a couple of days after the first time we had sex, but he had to cancel because he had to stay up all night to finish his first chapter.

I had hoped all this time that when he finished writing up he and I might pick up the hanging out and having sex. This doesn't mean that I chased him - in the beginning I'd touch base every couple of weeks, but then I stopped that - but it does mean that I hoped we might enjoy each other for the limited time he has left here before he leaves. He finished the day before yesterday and last night he and I met for tea. And at that point he told me that, based on the fact that I had once asked him at a party if I would get to see him again once he was done and said I was afraid I wouldn't, and based on the fact that I had done something else (but he couldn't remember what), he felt that I was not conceiving of this as a friendship with sex, but rather imagining it as some sort of entanglement with expectations. I assured him, several times, that this was not the case, but he insisted that he felt this, and that for this reason - and later the reason he gave was that he liked sitting around talking with me over tea, and he liked being my friend, and he didn't want to risk that - he didn't want to have sex with me again (although he never uttered that phrase, that was what he meant).

This turned into one of those conversations that goes around and around, because I couldn't do anything but say his impression was wrong, and he couldn't do anything but say it was his impression and it affected him as it did. After he said that about not wanting to risk the friendship, I said, "We're not going to be friends." He said, "Why? You see, the very fact that you say that makes it clear that you're invested in the relationship as more than a friendship. Why wouldn't we be friends?" I said, "I have a lot of friends, and I don't want to have sex with any of them. If you and I remained friends, I would spend my time sitting across the table from you thinking how much I wanted to have sex with you. Can't you see how that would be painful for me?" He said nothing.

Anyway, after the conversation went around and around for a while, I said to him, "I'm sad. And I'm going to tell you why I'm sad. I'm sad because I'm so great, and you're never going to know that. I'm so funny, and clever, and giving, and you're never going to know how much that's true. And I'm sad because I wanted so much to make someone happy, and now I won't be able to do that. And I'm sad because I thought that just for a little while I was going to get to be happy in an area where I haven't been happy for a long time, and now I'm not. And I'm sad because I wanted to put my body against your body, and now I won't be able to do that. And I'm sad because I liked you, and it's always saddening when we like someone to discover that they're less than we thought they were." He didn't say anything (at some later point I said to him, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry because I think you're interesting. There's a lot in there, and I'm sorry I won't be able to learn about it").

And then the conversation went around a bit more, until finally we were just silent, looking at each other. And finally I said, "You're a fool." And I laughed. And I said, "You're giving up me? Man, you know me; you know what I'm like. And you want to give that up?" And he said, "I don't want to give it up; it's because I don't want to give it up that I'm doing this." And then he said, "Well, you'll have to make your decision," and quick as a flash he stood up and left the kitchen. And I called after him, "Wash your cup!"

I have to say I have trouble following his logic: I can't see why not having sex with me again is going to strengthen or maintain our friendship, especially since he also told me that he doesn't see most of his friends for long gaps of time - so our apparently valuable friendship would mean we might meet once or twice for tea, I imagine. But whether or not I follow his logic, I can see that we are not going to be friends, because I'm not going to pretend to be non-sexual friends with someone I really want to have sex with.

And I am sad. When I say that, it sounds simple and clean, but it's actually complex and ragged. The whole time that he was writing up I could say that I might still see him again, but now I can't say that. And he was nice - he wasn't the greatest guy in the world, but he's funny, and I enjoyed having conversations with him. It made my day a bit brighter to see him, and because I was attracted to him, and because it was a connection away from my group of friends, I did feel that it might turn into something where for a little while someone would be just for me - I could chat to them and tell them my news and know they were listening with special interest (before we got into the big discussion last night I did, in fact, do those things, and it was nice). And I wanted to have sex with him again. And my liking for him and pleasure in his company don't vanish just because I've chosen that the best thing is that our association be done.

You can say that he is complicated, or fucked up, or stupid, or weird (all of which have been said to me), and you can conclude that he just plain didn't want to sleep with me, or doesn't much like me, or likes me much more than I like him, since he apparently wants to be friends with me while I don't with him (all of these things have been said to me, too, mostly by me). I don't know. And certainly you can say that he's not worth my thought time, and/or that I should move on - I know those things. And you can say he's going to be very lonely in life, and I'm much better, or you can say that it's plain that he is totally a wrong person for me. I sort of know those things, too (except for the first two). But none of those things can get rid of the sadness, or make me not feel that I've lost something, some little chance to be happy for a little while. And none of them can change the fact that I just plain liked him - liked interacting with him - and I can't eradicate that liking. What we know rationally can't quickly change what we feel. And you can say, as a couple of people have also said, that my image of him as being perfectly fine with this is quite probably wrong - he may well be suffering from his own little or large unhappiness over this outcome (indeed, he himself said he would "not be fine" when he went back to his room), but that doesn't affect my feelings: suficiente pan no cura un corazon roto, as I would say. I feel I got badly treated, and for no discernible reason, and as a result I am unhappy where I could have been happy, and I have feelings that I cannot get rid of but that only make me unhappy, and I am alone in an area where I could not have been. And those feelings are very hard, and very very very very very very awful. And maybe the awfulest thing is that I can't stop having them, and having them can't change anything

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