Sunday, October 30, 2016

Let's talk about our twenties instead of watching the news

Just finished watching the last episode of the most recent Girls after a three-week binge starting in Season 3 due to a free HBO offer that expires tomorrow.  The show makes me miss my twenties, but never, ever wish to go through them again. In my twenties, I thought I just wanted to find a guy, marry him, and start having babies. Well, part of me wanted to do that. The other part of me, the one who was running the show, wanted to only date unavailable men, stay single, go to grad school, and keep moving. That part dominated until my late thirties (it's still there...though I have lost the need to destroy relationships. Or maybe I am moving on to destroying them at a much slower rate. You'd have to ask Dan). In my twenties, I always felt like I was behind. I wasn't far enough along in my career (what career?), I didn't have enough savings, I wasn't following the path that many of my friends were on; the path that worked to create families and stability.

Here are the guys I dated guys in my twenties (please note: "dated" signifies anything from one night hanging out together to a string of nights to a two year relationship: an Armenian dental student who told me my breasts were too big, a guy who was moving to Australia the next day, a married Irish cook at themed restaurant, three other bartenders from the same restaurant (one of whom was the long term--a not very tall Italian man who ran marathons and also drank half a bottle of Absolut vodka a night. He was handsome, compact, ten years older than me, and an alcoholic. And a writer. We had the most cinematic break up ever. Me, running away down the street in my pajamas after finding a hidden glass full of vodka and him chasing after me, calling my name. Cue Death Cab, except I didn't listen to Death Cab then. Cue Liz Phair. What happened to him? He died. I don't know how, but I Googled his name about five years ago and found his obit).

Where was I? A French orthodontist student who snorted cocaine on a coffee table on a Monday night and said, "What am I doing? I have lab tomorrow." A medical student who had a vanity license plate and whose ex-girlfriend's tampons were still underneath his bathroom sink. Her name was also Amy. He took me to meet his parents too quickly and left me to small talk with them while he washed his car. A Indian periodontal student who was allergic to my cats and so every time we tried to kiss, he sneezed on my face. A guy who went by his initials and had a cute white dog. I kicked him out of my apartment after he over-performed (you'll note that I have not gone into any real detail in the bedroom. I do that in my fiction; not so much on a blog my mom can read).

The boy from the mail room, who I used to take into empty classrooms. I believe I was trying to prove something, but I don't know what--that I was a free spirit? This confuses guys in their twenties because they think it means you're like that with everyone. I guess they were kind of right.  The mail room boy didn't last long because he started taking another secretary into a different classroom. A law student who wore only white t-shirts, spoke in a sexy scratch voice, and would only kiss me for the first time if I pretended to be sleeping (or dead?). He liked to take baths and may have been a sociopath. He's the only man I dated who I thought might hurt me physically. When I broke up with him, he made me a mixed tape of opera music from The Omen.

Not really any of my fellow writing students from DePaul. There were two guys I liked. One had a girlfriend (though I didn't know this for a really long time) and the other was so jumpy that we could never even sit on the same sofa together. He's married now. They're both married now. I think one may have a son named Elvis.

P.S. I am not counting any of the boys from my last year in college. Add, like, six actors who, bar none, recited soliloquies before the first kiss. The theater guys are the best and the worst of all. Best because they're often playing a leading role, and ditto for the worst.

And what did I learn? I learned that nothing mattered except what I did for myself, and I did very little for myself in my twenties because I was trying so hard to be someone else---a catch, a flirt, a tease, a mixed-signaler, and was at once too needy while also too quick to find fault. I was Hannah and a little bit of Jessa (though never as cool) and never Marnie-enough. Shoshanna--I don't relate to her, but I still liked her. What I finally did for myself was to take writing seriously and apply for grad school. I could start a list of boys from my thirties--and you would discover that my twenties lasted well into my thirties.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why "I couldn't help myself" is not an acceptable excuse

For obvious reasons, there's lots of discussion lately about sexual assault. I had a conversation with a friend the other day where we compared whether or not we had been sexually assaulted. We decided we hadn't, not in the blatant ways they're talking about now. Though it's true that no strange man has ever grabbed me on the street, I have felt threatened by men, or assessed by men, or worried about men while out and about, particularly when I lived in Chicago in my twenties. But unwanted attention doesn't always come from strangers, it more often happens with someone you know.  I can't count the number of times some guy I know has accidentally touched me where he shouldn't--just a brush by, often with an apology. Same goes for unwanted contact with men I've dated. Women say yes to things or more accurately "not no" to sexual encounters way more than men might think. We're caught in this weird bind where if you don't want to fool around, the guy might loose interest or think you're uptight and if you do say yes, they also might think you're easy or indiscriminate. Sometimes (many times?), we say yes (or again, not no) because we (1). don't want to hurt your feelings, (2). are afraid you won't like us, (3). are used to it and no longer think it matters; (4). have bought the biological argument that you just can't help yourselves.

The claim now is that the women are inventing the attacks, because they didn't come forward sooner. Why would they come forward in the moment? Who would take them seriously? They know that the following options are a likely outcome: no one will believe them and they will be harassed, threatened, and called liars; if they are believed, they will be considered too sensitive because who cares if some guy grabs your breast? Third option is that they will be accused of being complicit in the act, egging the guy on by dressing provocatively or drinking too much or smiling in his general direction. The likely outcome of an unwanted kiss or an opportunistic grope is almost never jail time, or a fine, or any other penalty. In fact, that kind of behavior from men is often rewarded or encouraged by other men. High five, dude. Or, as DT would say, I couldn't help myself. 

How do you want us to prove it? Because even when you have proof, even when the man brags about doing it, it's still not believed.The truth is, I think most people do believe he did it, they just don't think it matters. I'm waiting for the moment when DT accidentally says what many are thinking, "Grow a pair of balls, ladies. Get over it. It's not like you were raped." That's true. Rape is much more traumatizing in many, many ways. But sexual assault is insidious. It confirms what many women fight against, which is this medieval idea that we don't have the right to our own bodies or space; that we are still, in many ways, property whose value is determined by how "do-able" we are.

If you are a heterosexual male of consenting age, my guess is that you have had moments of behavior with women that are iffy. I don't mean that every guy is a rapist; just that he has likely been in a situation where he pushed or insisted or begged or asserted when he knew the woman wasn't really interested. And if you have a culture that calls that behavior okay (or even condones it), it's a slippery slope.

I wonder, do men worry when they walk down the street at night that someone might come up to them from behind, shove them into an unlit place, and rape them? Does that thought ever cross their minds? It does for me. I think about it every time I'm out walking the dog past sunset.

Even posting this seems risky to me, like I'll make someone mad or sound like an hysterics who makes blanket statements. But if those women can say something and know that they're going to get crucified by the pro-Trumpets, so can I.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Watching the Wire, 12 Years Later

We don't tend to be up on TV series, especially those on paid movie channels like HBO or Showtime, and I have no idea what I was watching in the mid-2000s when The Wire was on (besides The Bachelor). Never got hooked on any of the network shows either. Grey's Anatomy seemed like a more soap opera-ish version of ER and none of cop procedurals ever measured up to Homicide or even further back, Hill Street Blues. Current shows like Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder or Mistresses seem geared toward college students. Okay, but so, we got free HBO for three months and started The Wire, in large part because everyone who has seen it raves about it, and Dan has never quite recovered from Breaking Bad, which set the bar high, high, high for him. We're now up to season 3, episode 3 and it feels like we are watching it in hopes of getting hooked. We are not hooked. We care mostly about Omar, but less so about McNulty or any of the other cops. I liked season 1, which focused mostly on the development of this special team of police misfits at war with drug lords in Baltimore. Season 2 brought the union story line and was moderately compelling, if you care about the struggles of underpaid dock workers who smuggle women and drugs for minor profits. Season 3 seems to be focused on the governmental arm of corruption and we're still not energized by it.

My guess is that much of its popularity came from the fact that it was the first of its kind, a show that followed a large cast of characters and points of view at a fairly slow pace, giving equal time to the investigative arm and the drug sellers side (both portrayed with equal sympathy). It set up a path for later shows that borrowed from the idea that single episodes weren't stand alone pieces, but tied together into more and more intricate story lines of a big cast, with no single character fixed at the center. Having seen some of those inspired programs first and this series later, it's hard to be blown away by the narrative. The pace is slow, and we're often confused by what's actually happening, especially with the various lieutenants and majors and officers and politicians doing underhanded deals, and the turf wars among drug sellers. The tech end of it isn't compelling, because it's basically about listening to phone calls, which may have been novel in the early 2000s, but is less fresh now. And for me, there's also the fact that you have only two major female characters (a cop and a district attorney), and the rest of the cast and story lines revolve around dudes. For some reason, though, we're reluctant to give it up; still moving forward under the persuasion of other viewers who loved it, but watching it seems more like a dogged commitment than a pleasure. 

I'd love it if someone who watched the show when it was on would go back and start it again to see if it has the same power today as it did when it first aired. Adam??

Write whatever you want

I'm reading this pretty goofy (but fun) book I got at the library called Dear Emma. I'm certain there's a tie-in to the Austen book, but I haven't read Emma in a while, so I'm not keyed into the parallels.

This book is a first-person account of life in college as told by Harriet, who writes an advice column for the school newspaper called "Dear Emma." She's in love with a guy from one of classes who has ghosted away and is now dating her co-worker at the library. I read half of it yesterday in a blink because it's entertaining.

This morning, I was thinking about a recent column I wrote for Philadelphia Stories about MFA programs (to do or not to do), and then thinking it would be enjoyable to write a satire of MFA's though this must have been done to death. And then I also dismissed the idea out of hand because it wasn't potentially serious enough for a first published novel. It wonder if other people do this--reject a writing idea for not being Updike-ian enough before it's even written. It's not like I have 500 other novel ideas and this one is among the masses. I have actually one other novel idea that I haven't fleshed out which probably would be more serious, but would also require research.

So, that's my excuse for not embarking on novel idea that does have more emotional center; I might have to read a book about hospital practices. But then I've been reading more Joyce Carol Oates than usual (coincidentally just finished a book by her called Jack of Spades about an author who also writes gruesome novels under a pen name) and she seems not to weigh the external factors (should I write a book that is not so loosely based on the brother of Jon Bennett Ramsey? Should I write a book about a pedophile who wants to lobotomize kids to be his sex slaves? Should I write a book called Rape: A Love Story?), but to say F-it and write it anyway. Of course, she is JCO.