Archive for February, 2010

The Microheroics of Marriage

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I had this idea for a post about how John gamely accepted the new, brighter towels in the bathroom, despite having been perfectly happy with the previous towels, with which he found no fault. (They were drab.)

Then I remembered: I asked him whether he personally—as opposed to the racks, which have no say—wanted a new bath towel. And gave him a choice of color. And bought the soft, springy, stripey-green towel for him. Which turns out not to be as absorbent as one might like.

So, he was game. But I was nice. No heroics there.

Then I remembered about the Soy Creamy.

Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy, Cherry Garcia flavor. (It has a generic name, but we know what it is.) It comes in quarts. Well, a single quart. And for a while, I would buy that single quart and devour my half pretty much within a day. Sorrow and grief.

Then I came upon the idea of buying two quarts, the second belonging entirely to me, so that I could stretch the experience to at least several days. I think we can all agree: powerful innovation.

But folks, I do not get to Trader Joe’s very often. And the freezer, it keeps food fresh (“fresh”?) for weeks. That, I am told, is its job. So last week, I came home from the Joe with a big surprise for our freezer. And John.

M: Guess what, Sweetie? I got three Soy Creamies!

J: No way! Three?

M: Yup.

J: You broke your record!

M: I did break my record!

J: You’re a champion!

M: Gosh, thanks. I do feel good about it.

J: I can see why.

M: Do you think I even maybe broke the world record?

J: It’s possible!

M: Maybe I did. Maybe I did.

Nope, Not a Feminist

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

In my online meanderings re: the Lori Gottlieb book, I happened upon an interview with Julie Klausner, newly minted author of I Don’t Care about Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated. (Full disclosure: I added the hyphen between “Faux” and “Sensitive.”)

In the interview, Klausner is presented as something of an anti-Gottlieb, a hilarious comedian and feminist railing against “the very guys Gottlieb might implore you to settle for.” So, I bought the book. And read it. ‘Cause I’m all about staying on top of this critical and life-affecting debate, whether or not anyone else cares. Plus, I love dating horror stories. Who doesn’t?

Conclusion: I don’t think Amelia McDonnell-Parry, conductor of said interview (whose orientation, should we wish to know, is “slutty”), fully read either book. ‘Cause Klausner ain’t no feminist, neither. Her book is hilarious, salacious, and rompy, and I’d recommend it for the quickest beach read since Tuesdays with Morrie. (Disclosure: didn’t read TWM.)

But while Klausner may be actually kind of alarmingly . . . “sex-positive” would be the generous way to see it (“sex-addicted” seems equally possible), she’s also obsessively man-focused and fat-phobic, and her dating-don’ts are not mere “he never called me back” stories. They’re authentically scary. What she allowed various men to get away with, in the name of earning their love, is dark indeed.

True, she knows that now. The point of the book is that she has graduated from that kind of behavior. And Klausner never makes the Gottlieb-ian mistake of pretending that her personal decisions represent a troubling, spinsterizing movement among women. Yet even as an older-and-wiser 30-year-old (yup), Klausner has some redonk ideas about dating. Cases in point:

1) She doesn’t believe that women should compete for men. She believes that men should compete for women.

2) “A successful relationship with any guy is going to ground itself in him knowing that he shines, but you shine brighter.”

and

3) “If you’re the one at the lip of the stage hoping to get perspired on or clamoring for an autograph, that doesn’t speak too well of your desirability. You’re sort of putting him in a feminine role up there, watching him decked out in eyeliner, singing a song, aren’t you?”

Uh, “feminine role?” Yeah, and those Beatles boys had such long hair, they practically looked like girls! Of course, these assertions are coming from years of Klausner’s giving the rocker guy all the power, objectifying his musical talent or conventional beauty, and assigning him greater worth than she assigns herself, so I can understand an emotional need to err at the other extreme. But “feminine role” my ass.

Julie, some words. Everybody gets to perform—or not. Nobody’s better than anybody else. Nobody needs to shine more brightly than anyone else. Nobody needs to compete for a partner, male or female. And if you want the guy to worship you just as you used to worship him, you’re asking to be objectified. That’s not equality.

I would now like to make my own totally unscientific and largely unsubstantiated observation about straight, single, middle-class, urban women interested in LTRs with men—at least the ones who write dating memoirs and “Modern Love” columns in the NYT:

What’s with the chivalry bullshit? I keep reading pieces by women with the above identity markers complaining that their romantic prospects don’t dress formally enough, or hold the car door, or pay. Pay! As if that weren’t an antiquated and paternalistic-at-best remnant of a time when women had no earning or other power!

Women, we’re all adults here. And if we’re ever going to gain full-fledged equality with men, it’s time to let go of princess narratives and start acting like equals.

YAY-ah.

Time to go rearrange my stuffed animals.

Los Olimpicos

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Like almost nobody I know, I am hugely into the Olympics. I think this is an either you-have-the-disease-or-you-don’t, a la the Academy Awards, and I’m a double-haver because I grew up watching both. (Thanks, Mom.) So every year, alone though I may be, I soldier through.

We all know that NBC’s Olympic broadcast is both shamelessly schmaltzy and shot through with commercials—not to mention delaying the highlights until midnight—so I’m going to blow past that and give men’s ice skating a big HELLS TO THE YEAH.

Though mostly I’m talking about the short programs, because the longs were…long. And a bit lackluster. And…Evan Lysacek? I mean: work ethic, degree of difficulty, Torino flu, comeback drama, check. But: artistry? Nee-yope. He seemsĀ  royally freaked out when he skates, whereas Plushenko is, like, Lord of the Dance. I know the Olympic pressure is mind-boggling, and I would myself be a pool of ooze, but I want my gold medalist to own the ice.

Sigh.

And did they not totally rob Johnny Weir? (Heh, just mistyped that as Johnny Weird. He must get that all the time.) I love you and every last tassle, Johnny!

Also, I have this to say about snowboard cross: I am against it. When luck is so heavily a factor, is it really a sport? I say no to any event where your four-year Olympic dream can end in a matter of seconds. There has to be time, people. You have to get do-overs. One of the great things about the skating is that even after a fall, some skaters come back in soul-stirring ways, whereas if you get knocked out of the snowboard cross course, you are roasted-chicken-done.

Stupid snowboard cross.

Half-pipe, on the other hand, is wonderful for this reason: the shrug. Have you noticed that when they fall, which happens so often that not-falling is the exception, they inevitably end the run with a shrug? They’re like, “Oh, well! That didn’t quite go as planned! Brewski back at the lodge?”

Book Rec

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

People, you know you’re always asking me for book recs. So here’s one: A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias. It’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, devastatingly sad but also thrilling, from the point of view of a husband whose wife of 30 years is dying of cancer. Gorgeously written, SO deeply felt, so intimate and emotionally present and real. A book to love, truly.

Here’s what’s weird. Apparently it’s autobiographical. I mean, really autobiographical. As in, the book’s wife has the same name as Yglesias’s wife, who died of cancer in 2004. The book’s couple has two sons (same). The book’s husband is a writer who dropped out of high school at 16, in 1972, to publish his first novel (same). And later becomes a screenwriter (same). So, when the book’s husband flashes back to an affair he had with one of the wife’s best friends, and then doesn’t ever tell his wife . . . ?

Yeesh.

Anyway, though. Great book.

And Another Thing

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot of the smack/feminist rage against Lori Gottlieb and Marry Him, and, all due respect from a card-carrying member, I think it’s misplaced. Of course, Gottlieb (and/or her editor) is baiting the response with the title/subtitle of her book. She’s probably delighted by all the sturm und drang, which gets her media appearances and sells units. And, sure, if you don’t look beyond the stupidity of the book’s cover, it seems only natural that you’ll see Gottlieb as an anti-feminist throwback, preying on women’s societally inculcated fear of remaining single.

True enough: Gottlieb has that fear. As I said, she desperately wants to be married—though, of course, at least until writing the book, not desperate enough to open her heart to non-alpha men—and she seems to forget that there are women who aren’t straight, or who don’t want to be married, or who don’t want to have children, or even women whose standards for partners are depressingly low. That’s all part of the book’s narcissism, that it takes Gottlieb’s own personality profile as a cultural trend that supposedly says something about all women.

But if you read the book, it’s not too hard to see that Gottlieb is talking about a very specific kind of woman: the straight, upper-middle class, marriage-minded, hyper-intellectual, achievement-oriented, status-obsessed striver who refuses to date anyone but the alpha hottie who’s talented at sexy banter but miserable at real connection. She’s talking about herself. And sure, there are women like Gottlieb. Just last night on the phone, a friend told me about someone she knows, a 40-year-old woman who won’t date any man who isn’t extremely conventionally attractive, because she, apparently, “deserves no less.” So, there’s a Gottlieb.

The honest version of Marry Him would have a personal title, something like “Learning to Love,” and it would chart Gottlieb’s initial steps toward deepening as a person, without making any claims about women in general. But the book is designed to sell. The movie rights have already gone to Tobey Maguire: In two years we’ll get the predictable romantic comedy about the woman who goes through a series of charmers, only to find a goofy loveball at the end—the goofy loveball in this case played by the very conventionally handsome Tobey Maguire, handicapped only by a pair of glasses or a bow tie.

So, bottom line: Gottlieb strikes me as less than self-aware and not exactly a feminist. But she’s not trying to take us down. She’s trying to find love. And make a kamillion dollars. And I think she’s on track for the latter.

Marry Him: One Big Oy

Monday, February 15th, 2010

As promised, I read it.

It’s a provocative book. Naturally: Gottlieb intends it to be. And it isn’t the antifeminist rant that Bitch mag says it is, although Gottlieb does blame feminism (really, her misreading of feminism) for making her (too) choosy about men. (That’s because she got her “feminism” from Sex in the City, which . . . oy. Why is that show never seen for what it was—a commercial for materialism, narcissism, and sex addiction?)

I think what’s hardest about the book is its desperation. Gottlieb is basically saying, “I lost.” More specifically:

1) In her 20s and 30s she was judgmental and superficial, her libido the unconscious victim of too many banter-laden romantic comedies, so

2) she dated for sexual sparks rather than emotional connection, which meant

3) rejecting any number of potentially suitable suitors for traits as trifling as red hair, so

4) her relationships with hotshots never worked out, and

5) she missed out on marriage, and

6) now she’s over 40, and she may be single forever, and it sucks.

She tries to twist her hard-won wisdom into a message of hope for younger (straight, female, marriage-minded, and equally shallow) readers—i.e., If you don’t make the same mistakes she did, you’ll be fine—but it feels like a dollop of whipped-up editorial imperative, when the rest of the book has soaked in rue.

In fact, Gottlieb trots out a fat lot of statistics showing how much harder it is for over-40 women to find available men, since over-40 men, almost to the one, date women 5 – 10 years younger. The statistics are inarguable and sad for women, but their centrality to the book hews to an economic model of partnership that is pretty unsavory, given Gottlieb’s attendant failure to, basically, open to love. In other words, if love were what she were after, would age matter? Or matter so much?

Part of what’s hard here is that Gottlieb really, really wants to be married. Not partnered, but married. And I think in writing about marriage (instead of love) as the goal, she betrays her lingering attachment to status above connection. And she keeps doing that. So while the books supposedly limns (hello, Michiko Kakutani*) Gottlieb’s trajectory from the projection-based frisson of the banter date to a deeper and more open quest for connection, we’re instead left to marvel at all the ways she remains attached to signifiers of status and achievement.

*”Limn” is Kakutani’s favorite verb.

Example. Gottlieb rates men. One of her claims is that if, by your early 30s, you open yourself to marrying the good guy who treats you well instead of the asshole/striver/achiever who turns you on, you’ll end up with an 8. And an 8 is, I quote, “a catch.” But if you wait until you’re 40 to get religion, you’re going to have to go with a 6. Or even a 5.

Ouch. And oy. And ouch again. People aren’t, you know, numbers. Surely, by 41 (another number we keep hearing), Gottlieb might know that? Might she have gleaned by this time in her life that, while she may connect more comfortably with some men than with others, all human beings are worthy of love? And hey, what’s the asshole—a 10?

When forced to narrow down her epic laundry list of wants in a man, Gottlieb chooses these: intellectually curious, kid-oriented, and financially stable. I’ll give her kid-oriented, because she has a young son. And if by “intellectually curious” she means that they’re honestly interested in each other as people, as opposed to objects, I can let that slide. But financially stable? Has she learned nothing?

It’s telling that Gottlieb never uses the word “status” in the book. (It appears once, in a quote.) My sense is that it’s because she’s so caught in its maw, she can’t see around it. Nor does she ever write about her heart as the organ of romantic connection. (Indeed, she leads with her head.) Late in the book, Gottlieb does share the epiphany that her job as a romantic partner might extend beyond merely allowing the man to adore her; she sees that she might be called upon to love him as well. But what should be a momentous breakthrough (i.e., “Holy shit! I don’t know how to love!”) is a brief whistle-stop on a speed train to further calculations about how to get the guy. You know, the 6.

The entire book is like that—taking a baby step toward wisdom, fumbling backward toward confusion. There are moments of what could be insight for people who, like Gottlieb, have lost touch with their inner softness, followed by defended analyses of romantic partnership as economic exchange. In one section, to calculate the economic losses of being single, Gottlieb makes an expense list for dating that includes cosmetics, new outfits, and multiple sets of lingerie. Really? In 2010?

It’s a funny book, one that doesn’t learn its own lesson. “The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”: That’s a subtitle in the egocentric model that Gottlieb is supposedly trying to leave behind, where the man is a prize rather than a partner, and where his “value” confers hers. What she really means is, “Stop being a superficial idiot, crack open your defended heart, and learn how to love.” But the closest she can come to saying that is “Be less choosy.” So you don’t end up alone. In other words, take the “8″—so you don’t have to take the “6.”

For me, one of the reasons that the book held any interest at all is that I spent a good deal of time in the world that Gottlieb doesn’t seem to have left: the East Coast intellectual elite, where status and achievement are the governing values. It’s a heady, lonely place to be, often devoid of connection and compassion, though nobody seems to know. Or mind.

That world became empty for me pretty quickly. By my sophomore year at Yale, even (an alma mater I believe Gottlieb and I share). But, as far as I can tell, Gottlieb is only now beginning to question those values and search for something deeper. I hope she finds it.

Media Melange

Friday, February 12th, 2010

1) Fame. The remake. We saw it on PayPerView in our hotel room. Best part of the experience was watching John get increasingly angrier as he realized that no character development would be forthcoming. He is so cute when he’s angry at bad art! Or bad commerce! Whatever that sort of movie-making is.

Whereas I had expected pure schlock and was thus pleasantly surprised by the lack of mawkish dialogue. In other words, instead of sentimental pablum, Fame 2 is impressionistic gossamer. And they cheat you out of the songs! Where is “Dogs in the Yard”? Where is “Hot Lunch”? Even “Fame” gets ghettoed into the credits. Dumb choice.

2) An Education. Also on PPV. Very entertaining. Everyone’s right about Carey Mulligan; she’s wonderful to watch. But why has nobody mentioned that the Peter Sarsgaard character isn’t charming enough? He’s boring, even. And kind of pathetic. For Mulligan’s character to be interested in him, he’d need to be her equal in intelligence, if not knowledge. Or at least style. Or maybe just really sexy. Something.

3) Lush Life. I read a Richard Price book. (Go ahead. Reel in shock.) Years of listening to his interviews on NPR won me over to a genre I’ve otherwise avoided: the police procedural. And . . . I liked it. Dude writes good sentences. Crackling language—and language everywhere, not just the dialogue, which is what you hear about Price.

But I think in the end, the procedural stuff eclipses the characters. Which is a shame, because the characters are fascinating and well drawn. I’d have liked to have spent more time with them and less time in the interrogation room.

4) Cherry. I read the second Mary Karr memoir. (I am now primed for the newly released third, as was my goal.) I liked it even better than the first, which ran into the occasional sluggish interlude.

Cherry is about Karr’s adolescence, and even though her 1970′s East Texas milieu couldn’t be more different from Fitzgerald’s, there was something about it that reminded me of him. Maybe the dissipation. Or the ennui. Karr writes fantastically about altered states (which bodes well for Lit, about her alcoholism), and she has such a sensibility for the body, for translating states of feeling. For the sake of rhythm, I’ll put a few non-Karr books between me and Lit, but it’s in my queue.

And I know all five of my readers are practically peeing their pants for my take on Marry Him, so I’ll try to post that before too terribly long. I’ve already spent enough time sorting my thoughts that I feel some sort of income should attach itself to this project. Anyone?

Three Squirrels

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I’m long on bloggable material (two movies and three books, including this beguiling wonder) and short on time. So I’m going with St. John the Optimist.

John’s an optimist.

An irrepressible optimist.

You cannot keep that man down.

No matter (to quote a funny friend) how hard you try.

Sometimes I get a very precise image of his optimism: It’s a daisy, popping up in a field of grass. Things looking less than ideal? Sproing! John’s optimism pops up and bobs its pretty, sunshiney head.

Story:

Recently, John’s office moved from Berkeley to Emeryville. Their new digs are much larger and far swankier, so although they’ve got the desks and cubes in place and are fully operational, it’ll take some time to fill in the side tables, meeting-room credenzas, and wall hangings. And as Director of Operations, John is involved in this process.

So the other day, John and his boss head out to Ikea to score some auxiliary furniture. The boss cannot know that Ikea is a MAJOR MELTDOWN ZONE for John, where within about ten minutes he can be relied upon to deliquesce into a puddle of goo. I don’t love Ikea, either—nothing like the largest box store on Earth to mercilessly beat down your will to live—but sometimes, you gotta do. (Our strategy, other than avoidance, tends to be either warp speed or hand-holding.)

So anyways, the mission does not succeed. In fact, though John manages to keep it together perfectly well for whatever duration, his boss goes into a mini-spiral, and they come out on the other side of searching for major set pieces with nothing but a few desk lamps. Three, to be exact.

“I feel like we went hunting for boar and came back with a squirrel,” John’s boss says morosely.

“No,” says John. “Three squirrels.”

Sproing!

Thank you, Universe, for giving me a daisy of a husband.

Shut Up, Sheets!

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Whenever you tell people you’re going to Santa Cruz, they ask where you’re staying. That’s because Santa Cruz has a heaping shovelful of crappy suicide motels, two or three expensive B & B’s, and one swanky beachside hotel at $350/night.

And nothing else.

We have our favorite suicide motel, distinguished mainly by its perfect location and frequently functioning hot tub, but this time we went for the beach joint. Why? John had a two-night credit.

It was awesome.

It was also hilarious.

Case in point: We arrive, pull the car up to check-in, and immediately don’t know what to do. There’s a valet there, and he wants to unload our baggage and take it up to our room while also somehow simultaneously parking our car. We’re so used to unloading our own baggage and parking our own car that we ask to borrow the luggage cart.

“Sure,” he says, “I can take your luggage to your room.”

No, we want to take it. We love loading the luggage cart, and even more fun is driving the luggage cart down hotel halls! Plus maneuvering it into the elevator! Plus making jokes about how much luggage we pack for three days away!

But it’s not to be. The valet rules the cart. We apparently can carry the luggage up to our room (requiring several unseemly trips, as we pack in multiple smallish bags and have a 27-lb. portable freezer for my ice), or the valet does it. We go with the valet.

Who is humorless! While John parks the car, the valet and I travel together up to floor 7, where he unloads our stuff without once laughing at my hilarious jokes. Sigh.

Our room is a suite (gorge) with sliding glass doors and a balcony overlooking the bay (gorge), styled in chic mid-century modern, with accent colors of lime, lemon, and tangerine. Love! We even have a chocolate-colored bean bag (brand: Fat Boy) which John attempts a seat-dive into, only to be instantly spat out. (Hilarity.)

The bathroom mirror has two parallel strips of gray that turn out to be lights. The shower has a wand. The wallpaper is the exact same color as the ceiling paint, only textured. I didn’t even get that it was wallpaper until the second day!

Immediately I feel that all my clothes are wrong. To compensate, I change into sweats and get into bed.

This is where things get kind of sad. The sheets! Are loud! Very, VERY loud. They’re starched to such a crackly crisp that it’s impossible to make a move without creating a cacophony of rustling and crinkling noises. LOUD rustling and crinkling noises. GARBAGE-TRUCK LOUD rustling and crinkling noises. On the first night, I spend pointless minutes lying awake, afraid to change position for fear of waking John. And when he turns over, I bolt awake in earthquake hysteria!

Who could have predicted sheet-induced loss of sleep?

Anyway, we had a fantastic time, including two pay-per-view movies (more in a future post), an 11 A.M. hot fudge sundae, and some primo hot-tub-on-the-beach relaxation.

Thank you, Dream Inn. And please quiet the sheets!

Memoir: Why Do They Hate You So?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

A couple of weeks back, The New Yorker ran a review of Memoir: A History, in which writer Daniel Mendelsohn posited a theory for why people get so angry about memoirs. (That is, people are always complaining about a memoir glut, and how memoirs amount to nothing more than a bunch of whiny, self-identified victims publicly airing their woes—whereas you don’t get a lot of backlash against the novel.)

Mendelsohn’s theory is that people hate to be duped, and that memoirs are, by their nature, duplicitous: Even if a writer attempts to be as truthful as possible, the truth is a slippery thing, memory is notoriously plastic, and reconstructed dialogue isn’t exactly hard data.

Eh . . . maybe.

I think there are other reasons:

1) Personal disclosure makes people squeamish. While daytime talk shows and social media would make it seem as though social boundaries crumbled long ago, I think there is still a general discomfort in our culture with learning intimate details of strangers’ lives—and if not in learning the details then most certainly with witnessing the feelings. Here’s my evidence to support that: How often do you cry in public? Which brings me to . . .

2) Other people’s feelings are scary. This is pretty much the same point, except I want to stress the power of the aversion. In almost any social situation, there’s a whole “Oh, don’t cry” thing that happens as soon as someone’s eyes begin to glisten. Even people who know that they’re supposed to let you weep (I live in Northern California) often have a hard time with it, and the same goes for anger, grief, and pretty much anything but cheer. Our culture does not have the “be with/allow” value. We have the “silence/fix” value.

3) Memoirs are tonally tricky. There are lots of poorly written memoirs, many of them superficial, not seeming to understand the gravity of the endeavor. As I’ve written here, I’m a consumer of the compulsively written, jokey memoir, but it does make me uncomfortable, basically because the author is usually treating her suffering as a joke, without compassion. And then there are the humorless memoirs, revealing deep wounds in hackneyed language that makes it even more painful—as if the writer didn’t quite value her own story enough to write through the cliches.

4) And then there’s the motive problem. Why do people write memoirs? I think most people write them because they want to tell their story. Good reason. And I, personally, love reading other people’s stories. But some people write memoirs because they’re trying to get their wounds healed, or win love, or make money, or get back at someone, or all four. And those memoirs are hard to read.

One more thing: A poorly written memoir can feel like overdisclosure. And overdisclosure is uncomfortable, because it assumes intimacy where there is none. A well written memoir can ease us into intimacy the way we ease in with a new friend, revealing personal information when it feels safe to do so.

In other news, my gerbils both suddenly froze, mid-chew, to watch me. We were locked in a mutual stare—all three of us. Then I lifted my hands to start typing again, and they zipped back into their little house. You could almost see cartoon puffs of smoke in their wake.

I am so in love with them.

Once I asked John what he thought it was like to be a gerbil, and he said, “You just suddenly find yourself doing things.”

Anyone else want to weigh in on memoir backlash?