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 If you’ve ever seen what moths do to cashmere sweaters, and mice to manuscripts of unpublished novels, you’d understand why this seemed perfectly feasible.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.