eulogy for the living

Sometimes you encounter something that will not be pinned in. You cannot contain this or rationalize it or know in advance where it’s going.

This event does not have to be the most significant of your life on any other terms. But it will knock you flat.

it’s called grief.

Grief for a chapter of your life now ending, a love affair, a national disaster. Whatever the source is, you react by saying, “Oh.” There is nothing to articulate, no social media to post.

There is no eulogy to write when a person dies.

We write it, a bit later, to sum up. But it’s only after another’s death – a death that moves you – when you realize that the living reality, however complicated, however annoying or bothersome or disappointing, was so much better in its indescribable complexity than any neat and tidy, poetic or eloquent summation in death.

Perhaps that is grief itself: We didn’t mean it. You were perfect as you were. Come back.

I would prefer it if this man continued to exist.

I met him just a couple of months ago. I was sitting at a table at a bar I had determined was the safest dive.

“Pretty redhead at table two,” I heard, and looked to see a man passing by.

Mentioning that, I feel the need to add, “He was a perfect gentleman.” But saying that would, in a good essay, need to be backed up by facts. To relate facts after knowing a man for a matter of weeks, when others have known him for years, is to diminish the experience of knowing this man.

Who am I to say, “This is why he was special,” perhaps overshadowing the memories of others, much more evocative than mine?

The truth of death is that it belongs to the living. Grief is for those left alive.

We sat around his end of the bar tonight, making ribald jokes, and jokes about how to pronounce the word “ribald.”

I had felt at home at this bar because it seemed full of intelligence, but I only saw that because I was introduced to intelligent people by Lyman.

There you go again with the anecdotes.

Tonight, we told anecdotes and we drank and we made ribald jokes.

Here is the terrible thing.
If you could trace the shape of a person’s soul.
If you could follow the path on a map from Point A to Point Z along the timeline of a human life.
If you could see, projected on the wall, the deepest wish in someone’s heart.

And, if you took that device to the ICU to document the purest intent of this unresponsive man.

It would show the image
of people he cared about
or, if that was all that was available,
even people he was mildly fond of,
sitting around a four-top,
beers in hand,
laughing
unabashedly.

This was a man who simply wanted others to be their happiest or their best. Creative and intelligent, he knew those two feelings could be mutually exclusive. He had an appreciation of talent that even talent itself denied.

But there I go again, telling anecdotes.

My biggest fantasy tonight is that tomorrow I will learn he’s rallied. Hearing the news, I’ll feel overjoyed and delete this post. Just in case.

You should never have to read your own eulogy.

In the meantime, we take turns throwing memories into a hat. Maybe one of these memories will take on a vivid blue light, the passion of life. Maybe one will be so wonderful that it will strike him, in his unresponsive state, and make him feel the thrills of that day.

Perhaps he will be forced to blink his eyes awake, with the sheer delight of that memory.

“I remember,” he’ll say, and jump up from that hospital bed.

In the meantime people who knew him, for weeks or years or decades, tell stories. Stories of experiences shared with him, stories of things frustrating about him, even terrible and embarrassing stories that can only be told in the shared moment of mourning him.

Eulogies are told. The memories may not resurrect the fallen. But they serve, as best anything can, to honor the mess that is love.

Battle of the Sexes 2016: the Perils of Online Dating

I’ve learned not to use the phrase “Let me know” with a man. For example you might find yourself texting a guy, “Let me know when you want to come over.” In my mind, this means, “Let me know in the next day or so, when you’ve decided in advance, when you plan on coming over.”

A man may act like he doesn’t plan out his days, but somewhere in a dusty back corner of even the most “laid back” man’s mind, there is a clear itinerary: I’m going to go to the gym after work, then I’ll catch up with a buddy over a beer, and then around eleven, maybe midnight, I’m going over to Suzie’s house to fuck her senseless. This very explicit vision for the day’s events plays out in every single man’s mind on the entire planet. I have CAT Scans of various male brains, locked away in a secure academic facility, to prove it.

He’s not going to voluntarily tell you this plan unless you force him to. For one thing, at the risk of sounding sexist, but then why stop now, a lot of guys find it physically painful to verbalize. It’s like the highway between thought and articulation is full of cars driving very slowly and it’s going to take a good, long time before that idea reaches the mouth.

More important, with most single guys, their plans aren’t really what a new female acquaintance will want to hear.

Picture it, this guy being honest. “Hey baby, I can’t wait to see you. I just have to hit the gym for an hour, shower, get cleaned up, maybe grab some takeout, swing by the bar with the guys. Realistically I’ll have three, maybe four beers and probably a shot. I’ll stagger in to your place horny as hell right about when you’ve given up on the evening and just want to curl up in bed with a rerun of Mad Men.”

Instead, you’re going to text him saying, “Let me know when you want to come over!” and he’ll reply, “Sure :)” and then three days later, right as you’re turning off the porch light, you’ll get that text about his plan… and his plan starts twelve minutes from now… inside your vagina.

As I write this, I think, maybe I really do just have terrible taste in men.* Maybe women all over the world are dating lovely respectful guys who would never dream of acting like this. And they may be. I’ve just never met any of these women.

I have met women, including good friends, who draw the line. They have one encounter like that and they end the whole shebang. The problem is, in my observation anyway, a lot of these women are single well into their forties. Because waiting for a man to pursue you like a man is like waiting for Social Security to become a viable retirement plan.

The other night, in a fit of boredom, I reactivated my account on OK Cupid. I hadn’t touched it a couple years, having spent the last several months, since a tough breakup, assessing what the hell I want.

An interesting guy messages me, I message back (actually, perhaps it was vice versa, I don’t remember). Our brief virtual conversation is acceptable and we agree we should meet for a drink. We exchange numbers.

And then he starts texting me. At eleven o’clock at night. He’s a stranger, we’ve messaged a total of at most a dozen times. I know his career and that he lives in the same city I do, that’s it. Now he’s making bad jokes about my name, and masturbation. It gets awkward. I text him, “Hey, I’m going to bed now – let’s chat tomorrow about when we should meet.” He texts back in agreement. I think the night’s conversation is over. And then ten minutes later he texts again… “I’m not a pervert.”

Well if I didn’t think you were a weirdo before, I sure as heck wonder now.

Or, another totally random example from last year. I meet this guy. We have an interesting encounter on a Saturday night. We agree to go out the next weekend. He starts texting me on Monday. I tell him I’m looking forward to our date but that this week is really busy for me. Every night the rest of the week, he texts me asking if I can come out. And trust me, his texts were not, “Meet me for dinner to engage in deep conversation about politics.” They were, “I get off work at eleven and then will you come over and blow me?”

Finally, on Thursday, I lose my temper, and he acts totally startled and pissed that I’ve found his nightly queries annoying.

Now you may be thinking I just have terrible taste in men. And you might be right. But I don’t know a woman who doesn’t feel frustrated.

Nowadays, we’re supporting ourselves, we have birth control, we can wait for marriage. We don’t have to make men jump through a bunch of hoops before they have sex with us. We’re horny too. Let’s do it. If I was a feminist living in the sixties looking into the future I’d think, “Wow, good for them, they have it all now!”

And yes, if a woman’s goal is to have lots of sex with people she doesn’t know or care about, she is much more free to pursue that than women ever have been.

If a woman’s goal is to meet a guy who doesn’t act like a weirdo, jerk or adolescent… that’s a lot tougher in our no-rules era than it ever was back in the “sexist” past.

Face it, without the societal rules developed over millenia to hustle young couples into legally binding, child-protecting, wife-supporting marriage, men have no idea. And I can’t say I blame anyone for feeling confused. We are all confused.

Does being a feminist man mean you have to let her make all the decisions?

Do you want to occasionally throw her on the bed and spank her, but feel a bit worried that that desire makes you an abusive SOB?

What if you like a dominant lady? Does that make you less of a man?

Maybe you think, We’re all on the same playing field now, this is clearly a one night stand, why do I have to pretend I care about you?

Conversely, I’ve met just as many men who find casual sex a total limpifier. Gawd forbid anyone admit that there might be a mind-body connection between a man’s erection and his feelings for the woman he’s about to fuck.

Meanwhile women are thinking, I can admit I’m horny. I can hit on someone. I can drag him to my bedroom. There is a primal thing occurring for women all over the world: after hundreds of thousands of years of being told who, what, when you would marry, and do not have any fun until we as your parents arrange that…

It is really hard to enjoy that historic level of liberation and then stop and say, “Wait a minute, you may be insanely hot, and we may both be single, and I may get wet just glancing at your fingernails, but I need you to connect with me on a meaningful level for several months before we get naked together.”

You could argue that women being able to have sex freely and without fear of pregnancy or social penalty is as major a change on this planet as dinosaurs going extinct. I don’t say this lightly, I’m stone serious. It’s turning everything upside down. We can’t just expect this level of social change to sort itself out over night. We can’t ask Tinder to bridge this gap for us. We are in a crazy time.

We need an Emily Post to codify some shit.

In the meantime, I have two gender-based requests.

Girls, be explicit. If you want a guy to call you instead of texting, say that when you give him your number. If you think contact after 8PM is rude, ignore the 11PM messages (I should have). If you want to have sex but don’t think there’s longterm potential, consider mentioning that before you rip his clothes off.

Guys, listen. That’s all I ask. Be a real feminist and take a woman at her word. Don’t interpret. Don’t assume. Meet each woman as a new, unique circumstance. Even if only for the evening, take her on her terms. If she plays games, that’s on her. In the meantime, she said, “Call me,” you actually called her, and you know you did your best.

Until Emily Post’s great-great granddaughter turns up to write the Etiquette of Casual Fucking… that’s all any of us can do.


*Full confession: in the past four years I have seriously dated only two men. They were both twenty years older than me. They both believed in calling. Taking you out. Doing what they said they would do. These values have somehow become “old-fashioned.” As progressive and open-minded as I am, I’ve learned I’m simply unable to develop a serious romantic connection with a man unless he’s like this. Which means I tend to get involved with older men. Because younger men don’t follow rules. And it shows.

Thanksgiving Day reruns (a holiday-themed reblog from 2006).

Written Wednesday, November 29, 2006, “Sour grapes and the theory of impermanence” was about a Thanksgiving celebrated in Pennsylvania, and recovered from in New Jersey. This is raw, Myspace material here, folks. Perfect accompaniment to Ma’s green bean casserole!

Sandwiched between Halloween (my dad’s favorite holiday) and Christmas (my mom’s), Thanksgiving always came in third or possibly eighteenth in my family. To me a fun Thanksgiving required a ton of people in the house to eat all this dumb Pilgrim food with. We often didn’t live in the same region as our relatives, and the last time we did spend it with them, the evening had the ominous feel of the last act of King Lear.

So last year my family unhesitatingly spent “Turkey Day” painting the living room. But, hey, we took an hour off in the afternoon to sit on the covered furniture shoved into the middle of the room and eat turkey ‘n gravy on toast.

We all agreed it was okay if, this year, I didn’t dash across the country for the holiday dedicated to thanking our white man’s god for providing gullible natives who were willing to feed us, hand over their land, and inspire Cher songs.

Anyway. My friend M has this thing about Thanksgiving so we decided several months ago that, even if we were single, unloved, far from family and totally broke on that particular Thursday in November, we’d at least do something together. So when she decided she’d spend it with her brother and sister in law in Pennsylvania, I went too.

Driving past old stone barns turned into antique stores, M warned me that the town where her brother lived was Something Else. Waiting for something else, I watched twee tea shops and bookstores fritter into lovely straight streets of family-sized pre-war houses. The lavendar-grey sky melted into the naked mauve branches of the trees. As we parked in the driveway of her brother’s house, his wife opened the back door, holding up her adorable one year old to watch us lift dishes of sweet potatoes and turnips from the back seat. It was just like the neighborhood my family lived in before we moved to Oregon… perfect.

Digression: Many people would call the neighborhood where I currently live and work “more than perfect.” The Queen Anne and Tudor mansions on sloping green lawns grace the curving streets with a gracious distance between them. Expensive cars fill the garages, happy children run to and fro, pedigreed dogs bark from maintained fences. But no one actually lives in these homes. They commute to the city every day or spend four hours in the gym so they’ll be fit enough to pick their children up from Catholic school. Hired help cares for the lawns, children, meals, cars and windows of these “homes.” Like most of this town, they’re holograms of perfection, but you can walk right through them. End digression.

We’ll call M’s brother Dan and his wife Carrie. Their adorable baby, by the way, is truly adorable, unlike all the babies in this world whom you’re required to describe with that word. She accompanied Carrie and I around the house as I oohed and ahhed at the redecorated bathrooms, the new mullioned windows, the baby’s mint-green attic room with the two-inch thick wood door.

I asked her how she felt living out here after she said she’d lived in cities all her life. She told me with what seemed genuine contentment- I recognized it from hearing it in my own voice when my family lived in the aforementioned Perfect Town- that between the baby, her work, and the pleasure of having favorite “local spots” in the town, she felt fulfilled right now visiting the city only once every couple weeks.

They’re both writers, working from home… a home with mullioned windows.

We ate too much good food, played a couple games, marveled at the baby’s genius, met the three cats. Then M took me home and returned to hers.

The next morning I discovered the house full of cake, brownies, cookies and turkey leftover from this family’s Thanksgiving celebration. I had a slice of everything. I spent a good hour talking to my boss’s father, who was visiting with her mother for the holiday. I went to Barnes & Noble to buy a gift, glaring a bit resentfully at the shelves of books everyone else in the universe had managed to get published. Then I drove to M’s.

All this, having eaten cake for breakfast.

For some reason, as I drove, my thoughts strayed to that idyllic period (in the aforementioned Perfect Town) when I was living with my family in a sweet old Craftsman and teaching myself how to write. Those couple years were marred by my own frustration, isolation, and boredom, topped with a few ugly revelations before we moved about the town itself. But I also learned, during those years, as I had learned years before writing on a used word processor in the tiny living room of our tiny two-bedroom apartment, that a little classical music, loved ones nearby, and something to write on are sometimes all I need to feel… content.

I’ll let the word rest in its purest form.

I thought about contentment as I’d experienced it in the past. I thought about the books on the bookstore shelves, and the burbling ideas I’ve had lately for novels, screenplays, comic scripts, memoirs… hundreds of things I wanted to write. But because I don’t want to let my parents support me anymore, because I’m too high-maintenence to keep this job that gives me all the free time in the world, and because you can’t ask Santa for a husband/sugar daddy, I’m not sitting in a peaceful place writing stories all day.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have cake this morning for breakfast. Today, I know, as I know nineteen days out of twenty, that I wouldn’t trade anything for the fun I’m having right now. But “for some reason” that day after Thanksgiving, I felt bereft.

You can puke any time. This particular story probably won’t get any less sentimental. I cried driving to Hoboken. Cried later that afternoon. Wasn’t until about three-thirty that I realized, gee. I just visited the Happy Suburban Family and must admit I have no means of attaining said happiness. I wonder why I feel blue?

Who knows how long they’ll have it- as M’s boyfriend pointed out when she described her brother’s situation to him, he’d had two kids, a house and wife a while back, too. Now he’s separated, his school-age daughters are in therapy, and his wife makes Norma Desmond look calm and open-minded.

In other words, even if you experience marital, familial, and workial bliss, it may not last. But that doesn’t make it any easier to live without it. I may don a Buddhist perspective sometimes and say “life is impermanence, so enjoy whatcha got,” but I have to admit that I want those few moments of shared happiness a young family hopefully experiences. Anyone who says they don’t just hasn’t been to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving lately.

So, once I’d realized that the combination of a hypoglemic-nightmare breakfast and a heartbreakingly nice peek into suburban life had given me an understandable post-ecstasy slump, I felt more pragmatic. Sure, I didn’t have a husband, child, cat, house, or the ability to support myself writing, yet. But… someday?

Pragmatism got me off the couch and to the liquor store with the hope that beer would finish the job.

I didn’t get drunk that night, however, or hit on any boys, or wander around the city looking for a distraction. I went to M’s boyfriend’s apartment with her. The three of us had a few beers, ate sushi, and listened to music. We assured ourselves that even if none of us ever experience that “Leave It To Beaver” stuff again, (and since all three of us lack the Calm Gene that makes such things possible, we may not) we can always adopt babies from the Congo and find some sort of compromised crazy substitute for Perfect Family Life.

And one of us may. Or they may get married and I’ll wind up the spinster with a hundred cats that M worries she’ll become. We might each end up on a different continent, we might not be talking this time next year, we might be drafted to fight in Iraq, we might find ourselves still drinking decades from now, wondering how to hold on to love.

Aware of all this, we just talked about David Bowie and how M’s boyfriend needed a haircut.

It wasn’t the most relaxed of evenings, but now that my blood sugar is stable, I have just one thing to say: I’m damn grateful I was there, with them, that night. I don’t know what’ll happen to them, or me, or anyone else I care about, tomorrow or ten years from now. I’m just glad to have friends who are willing, at least right now, to do what so few people besides my family have ever been able to do: to peek with me, almost blindly, through the curtain of night into the next day.

another little piece of my heart.

In my eighth grade year, my family drove up the AlCan Highway from Vancouver, BC to Anchorage Alaska, with three cats and the two of us kids in a VW wagon. We moved for a well-paying job that my parents hoped would allow them to save enough to buy a house after years of renting. And we moved for the adventure.

My dad promptly absorbed himself in reorganizing his new company, my brother went to school, and left to our own devices, my mom and I began to go mad. Anchorage was small and unsophisticated enough to have only opened its first big department store, Nordstrom, a year or two before. Outside the city, the barren landscape stretched endlessly. After our third backyard moose visitation, the thrill was gone. I developed SAD living through three hours of daylight in the dead of winter, a summer that lasted two and a half months. We lived farther away from my relatives than ever before, in an era when one still had to contend with long distance phone rates, and a time delay.

Meanwhile, my dad was developing diabetes, his insulin levels plummeting. Losing weight and his temper, he was unwittingly adding to our angst.

My parents’ plan was to live there three years. After a year and a half, they decided my mom, brother and I could return to Everett, and my dad would stay, to finish his work and meet their financial goals. Shortly before we left, my dad’s diabetes was diagnosed.

Moving into a two-bedroom apartment across the street from my high school, my mom and brother and I alternated between the sweet relief of homecoming, feeling frustration that we were still so far from owning a home, and missing my dad.

Originally, his decision to remain in Anchorage seemed generous and self-sacrificing. But after half a year, my mom and I began to question that. We three were happy to be home, we missed him, we wanted to spend time with him now that he’d regained his former cheerfulness, we were sharing a tiny apartment while he lived up there all alone. My mom was taking my brother to school events joking that she was a single mom; my dad went trick-or-treating with us for his favorite holiday and said maybe three words the entire night, stressed and still struggling to maintain his blood sugar levels. I hated my school, stiffening at the mockery every group I passed in the halls delivered. When my dad visited, I’d move out of the bedroom I shared with my mom to sleep on an air mattress in the living room. Our cat of ten years was dying before our eyes. It was a depressing and challenging year, and it seemed like spending more time together would help us all more than the money he was earning.

But no, he said, he had to finish what he started.

I remember my mom sometimes suggesting and sometimes accusing my dad of being more interested in his job than in being with, or helping the three of us.

And finally, one evening, I broke down in tears, begging him to please find another job, please come back to us. He reacted sympathetically, but did not consider it.

He commuted between Alaska and Washington for perhaps another year, finally settling with us in a house that my parents bought in Eastern Washington. That house was lovely, and for several years, we were all happy there. But one could argue that we, as a family, never really recovered from spending months divided, my mom and brother and I finding our own way to cope in that tiny apartment, my dad living his own life, however bleak, in Anchorage. And I know we never again killed the suspicion that work was more important to my dad than we were.

That night when I tearfully asked my dad to find a way to return to us, I was overwhelmed by the sense that not only was there was nothing I could do to persuade him, there was nothing I could offer to make him want to be with us. I fell asleep to dream of a team of superheroes befriending me, surrounding me with love and belonging, empowering me to make it. Without my dad.

I relive that moment of grief and inadequacy, unimportance, all the time. I do not date workaholics like my father, but I do find men who, often through no intentional desire to hurt me, have to say “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”

I don’t blame any of these men. And if only in the interests of moving on, I try not to blame my dad for generating, or myself for perpetuating, a circumstance that is both painful and familiar.

Last night, I put myself in that position again, with someone I care deeply about, and all day today, have longed for those superheroes to pat me on the back and say, it will be okay.

But I don’t want them to tell me, this time, that they will give me strength to enjoy life singly. I want them to explain to me why I keep putting myself, or finding myself, in that night, crying, asking Marcus, asking a widower, asking a distant friend, to please love me, please stay with me, please put me first. To please come home. To me.

You’d think once would have been enough.