August 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
I read Bob Herbert’s latest column, which is about the misogyny of American society, as exemplified in the shootings of women in an aerobics class by the pathologically lonely George Sodini, with mixed feelings. Herbert writes that we are inured to the violence against women; that if a mass murderer had gone into a public place and separated out blacks or Jews for killing it would spark more outrage.
I’m not sure this is particularly helpful. The most pressing problem is gun control, and I think young white women work as well as any other victim group to spur outrage, which is to say, not enough. The only thing that would be more effective is if wave after wave of psychopaths targeted politicians and their families (which, by the way, I am NOT recommending).
“Some people are happy, some are miserable. It is difficult to live almost continuously feeling an undercurrent of fear, worry, discontentment and helplessness. I can talk and joke around and sound happy but under it all is something different that seems unchangable and a permanent part of my being…
“I like to write and talk. Ironic because I haven’t met anybody recently (past 30 years) who I want to be close friends with OR who want to be close friends with me. I was always open to suggestions to what I am doing wrong, no brother or father (mine are useless) or close friend to nudge me and give it bluntly yet tactfully wtf I am doing wrong…
“I no longer have any expectations of myself. I have no options because I cannot work toward and achieve even the smallest goals. That is, ABOVE ALL, what bothers me the most. Not to be able to work towards what I want in my life.”
The feelings Sodini describes are very familiar, though the only time I felt that completely isolated was in junior high, and I didn’t have the weight of 30 years of failure behind me. But even now, after plenty of friends, lovers, marriage—what to Sodini’s mind would be a divine feast of sex and intimacy—I’m capable of feeling lonely and miserable, angry that I can’t seem to change, etc. When I imagine feeling this way continuously, being utterly unsuccessful at intimacy of any kind, I have to wonder: would I resort to shooting people? Probably not, but on the other hand, I would have broken a lot sooner than Sodini did.
Meanwhile, In The Observer, Barbara Ellen writes, “The dark paradox is that if Sodini felt his social status was demeaned by his lack of success with women, he probably wasn’t even shooting at the correct gender. It’s men who tend to torture other men about status, just as women tend to torture other women about body image. Therefore, it’s men, not women, who were responsible for Sodini’s misery.”
I don’t think either “men” or “women” were responsible for Sodini. He was responsible for himself. You can look at his family and background for clues to his mental illness if you want to. But have we gotten so far away from perennial human truths that it isn’t obvious that his ‘misogyny’ was the flip side of deep longing for a woman’s love? Not just sex or conquest or status. He wanted love from women (and was scared to go after it) and he wanted help from other men (and was scared to ask for it). That he was too frightened to seek help from professionals is hardly surprising: therapy is intimacy too.
He killed women to be noticed, to say I was here and I suffered. And he was noticed, and his blog was copied, posted and read, because his loneliness and anger strike a chord. THAT’S what causes all this flurry of denial. Either that or some people have no idea what loneliness tastes like.
I understand that people are afraid that paying attention to these killings encourages them. This is undoubtedly true. If none were ever reported, fewer would happen. But reacting with contempt and labels like ‘misogynist’ doesn’t make the next crazy guy any less likely to act out. After all, that sort of contempt is exactly what they’re used to.
As for outrage leading to gun control—sorry. Not enough dead yet. People would rather keep their guns and shoot anyone trying to give them “socialist” healthcare.
I murder hate by flood or field,
Tho’ glory’s name may screen us;
In wars at home I’ll spend my blood—
Life-giving wars of Venus.
The deities that I adore
Are social Peace and Plenty;
I’m better pleas’d to make one more,
Than be the death of twenty.
I would not die like Socrates,
For all the fuss of Plato;
Nor would I with Leonidas,
Nor yet would I with Cato:
The zealots of the Church and State
Shall ne’er my mortal foes be;
But let me have bold Zimri’s fate,
Within the arms of Cozbi!
Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.
April 30, 2009 § 4 Comments
The hardest thing to learn is how to endure emotional pain without believing that somebody has to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular person or group or the world or that old stand by, oneself: the need to make someone pay, while denying that that’s what you want (in the case of others) or that there’s any reason not to (in the case of oneself)—this is something I keep battering against, dizzy with loneliness, self-pity and rage.
And that’s all. I’m lonely; I’m angry; I feel sorry for myself. Nothing novel, strange, frightful or even shameful. I don’t need to remind myself about how much worse some people have it or stoically push down regret.
I can feel it, and so what. Nothing has to be done. Delilah told me last week, when she was describing how she felt her way into a character, that she had to think of the character’s emotion as an action she wanted to carry out. That sounds right for her art, which usually means it’s what you shouldn’t do in life.
Don’t just do something; sit there. This should sound familiar if you’ve had any exposure to the infinite library of spiritual self-help. Yet all the times I’ve heard that slogan, I thought it was for other people. It excited guilt and dread—I don’t do enough, I’ve never done enough, my problem is stasis—which I would repeat ad nauseum without realizing that I was engaged in a frenzy of action, if only in my head.
A night of cold ashes, no charm, no stories. I’m angry and I can’t say why, and I’m angry that this blog can’t be like a diary where the secrets are told and somebody later decides for you whether to publish. Yet I prefer having readers before I’m dead, so I shouldn’t complain.
I’ve gotten away from the moment. The one after the tears and the semi-hysterical punishment dramas. After I told the cat to fuck off and he galloped away to play lonely games in the living room. The moment when I realized my feelings were noisy but not important.
Punishment doesn’t work. I learned that.
I don’t have to act on my emotions. I learned that too.
I don’t have to stir them with a long spoon, imagining what I’d do if was going to act. Ditto.
I don’t have to not do that, either.
March 27, 2009 § Leave a comment
I’m not going to Florida after all. Not now, anyway. Charles isn’t certain how long his job will last. I’m both relieved and disappointed. I like feeling that I still have my city, even if I don’t know how to afford it, but I miss the idea of escape, of being in another quieter place for a long time. I miss the prospect of living with my dear, delightful husband again. I’m very tired of loneliness and simply seeing more people more often doesn’t cut it. Social life is work. I like domestic codependence with a man, which I was having on weekends this winter with Philip. That’s not all good nor is it easy but it comes to me naturally, just like some people are talented at jiving strangers out of fortunes.
I can’t go into the reasons why Philip will be relatively inaccessible for the foreseeable future, except to say that it’s not under his control, and if I don’t like the extent to which he’s responded to the situation, I have to admit it’s entirely in character and most people would say good character.
My view is more nuanced, which is a nuanced way of saying selfish. Let’s face it: I respect his choice, and my rage is like a wall of fire. Except that I’m not charred and dead, and the furniture looks untouched, so I guess it isn’t really. That was the image that came to mind though, yellow flame 20 feet high, no wider than a bedsheet, what any demon worth her salt could throw out with a flick of a taloned hand if she were pissed. And then shrug if the humans got upset, saying, “What do you expect? I’m a demon.”
I can tell you one thing: writing supernatural fiction isn’t nearly as cathartic as reading it. Too much lowly human labor, too much, “You have to write even if you don’t feel like it, bitch,” (said to self), and most of all the curse of all writers of a certain age: the awareness that no matter how well crafted a story may be, what illusions it can create in the target brains, words are still lifeless.
We know it; you don’t.
Humans have a hard time believing anything is lifeless. I read a story in New Scientist about money’s wily power. People who have had their hands burned in boiling water report their pain lessened if they’re handed a few bills. The lonely feel less so. Those asked to make sentences out of ‘money’ words (‘salary’, ‘pay’, etc), rather than out of neutral words, reveal in a follow up, difficult puzzle-game more reluctance to ask for help, even though they’re allowed to, and more reluctance to offer it to others when asked.
Not that this should surprise anyone. We all understand the movie images of criminals rolling in their leaf-pile of cash, laughing or kissing in wild good humor as the green notes flutter, and the subsequent scenes where they get suspicious and proceed to kill each other. The classic end for such a story is all the people dead, knives sprouting from chests, brains splattered against the wall—and on the bed, the pile of money untouched by blood, waiting in deceptive stillness for its next victims.
It’s hard not to be interested in what stories are going to come from this economic swoon. Crimes, heroism, religious conversions, and everyone’s favorite: the next great invention, produced by those creative geniuses previously shacked to remunerative work. But my natural curiosity has been quelled somewhat by what I’ve been reading lately about threats entirely likely and infinitely more dire than the last 6 months (not climate change or suitcase nukes). I won’t inflict them on you, at least not until tomorrow or next week.
I’m taking comfort from the idea that if Charles’s company goes under, he’ll visit me a lot more often. I can visit him too—in the nudist colony where he’ll share a doublewide with his brother. He says the middle-aged and old ladies shave their crotches there, just like young women do nowadays. I’ll feel like a savage. Maybe I can figure out how to grow it to my knees. And paint my breasts blue.
I have never walked down Fifth Avenue alone without thinking of money.
OVERHEARD IN NEW YORK
Hobo: Any change? Anything you got to give?
Suit: I wish I had something to give, but pretty soon, I’m going to be like you.
Hobo: My man, you cannot be this awesome.
–Bleecker & Lafayette
The faces in New York remind me of people who played a game and lost.
No one as yet had approached the management of New York in a proper spirit; that is to say, regarding it as the shiftless outcome of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance. No one is likely to do so, because reflections on the long narrow pig-trough are construed as malevolent attacks against the spirit and majesty of the American people, and lead to angry comparisons.
In New York it’s not whether you win or lose–it’s how you lay the blame.
January 7, 2009 § 2 Comments
I’ve been sick with a bad cold for almost two weeks, alone the last several days except for a brief lovely visit from Andree, my writer-singer friend who’s back from a year in China and having trouble with her inner ear. Doctors know nothing about the inner ear, it seems. I felt like asking if she’d inserted anything Chinese into her ear—considering their unfortunate tendency to substitute ingredients—but that sounded rather crude, so I just said something vague about “Chinese…” and she knew what I meant. But she’s been in the states two months so probably not. I’ve heard a lot of tall tales and mostly see through them but one I believed into my thirties was that earwigs were a kind of insect that, if allowed to crawl in your ear, would eat its way through to the other side. If you’ve ever seen what moths do to cashmere sweaters, and mice to manuscripts of unpublished novels, you’d understand why this seemed perfectly feasible.
Anyway, in this solitude of being ill and being home, I’m starting to freeze up like someone who’s been in bed too long, though I haven’t in fact been bedridden. I need to write and not be distracted so I’m not looking for company quite yet. But I feel the lack of it and am aware of the weight of it throughout my life, too many years of solitude all day. At first it was glorious not to go to school, to write in the mornings and walk in the afternoons, to shop and cook dinner for my husband. Once we moved to the city and he got a regular job, I often had coffee in the afternoon with friends, other writers or freelancers or stay-at-home mothers: there used to be so many of those. All of that was fine as far as it went; still, I felt understimulated and unsatisfied. But because I experienced my shyness as a deformity and was afraid of how anxiety destroyed the calm I needed to work, I avoided the distractions and novelty I craved, and so have ended up truly deformed, at least to my inner sight . What I’ve always focused on is a) the terrifying excitement of other people, the god and goddesses among us whom I wanted and hated and was blinded by, and b) the value of solitude, the power to endure and shape it. I forgot to think about c) the ordinary growth of the mind in the presence of the new; the curious bits and pieces that adhere through association; byways and second cousins and lucky chances. I don’t mean I never thought about these things or knew what they meant—put them in a novel and I’d immediately get restless, hungry for the book and the neighborhood at once—simply that I didn’t give them enough weight. It was like counting pennies. It was like counting pennies and thinking about how pretty they are, how their color makes them special, and they’ve spawned so many good words and phrases, ‘ha’penny’ ‘penny candy’, ‘penny for your thoughts’, yet still thinking: you’re wasting your time. Pennies. All of this is sex, how it dominated everything, diverting all interest in people and projects into tests of value and desirability, the old Dead Daddy story grinding away in my semi-conscious. My friend Annie talks about coming home from school in the afternoon to find her mother drunk, in her expensive negligee, lying on the couch listening to the same record over and over. (They had records then. You had to lift up the needle at beginning and end. If you weren’t careful, people yelled at you—though if you were a drunk ex-runway model alone in a Park Avenue apartment except for a maid and a kid, probably not.) She doesn’t remember what record it was, or maybe it’s that I don’t remember what she told me. I do know that I had to dance to a certain tune until the needle snapped, until the musicians died, until whatever it was happened that allowed me to put the old opera back on the shelf, where it still babbles foreign love songs in a wordy drool but I don’t have to listen.
What happened was I met someone who played the same tune, but not quite, I crawled into his brain and made my nest, and since he’s sentimental the idea of ‘nest’ arrested him. More and more I heard his music, and when it was entirely him, it wasn’t a magic opera anymore, it wasn’t the past. It was just a man and a woman or I should say, two men and two women, or three women—or however many women there are now between my husband and boyfriend, I don’t ask—what I mean is, it became a farce.
No, it’s been a farce for quite a few years now. I just took off the funny glasses, let myself cruise into ‘relationship’ territory. Stripped of Romance, lonely again, I started a blog, joined Facebook—which I know is not face-time, but still. Grownups and schedules are like giant vitamins, the kind my husband always claimed would stick in his throat and kill him.