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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