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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