Friday, December 11, 2009

Conquistadora

I heard a rumor that a former history professor of mine made out with a student during office hours. My first reaction: envy. My second reaction: what the hell, Linz? This man isn’t exactly young and he isn’t exactly handsome. Why do I find him so appealing?

I know why.

Because actually my second reaction was to put on my little conquistadora hat and start scheming. I like a good challenge.

What do I mean by conquest? Not what you might think. I’m not particularly pro-active in these attempts, because if someone is worth my wanting to conquest, they’re also unattainable enough to scare me away from anything so bold as actually making a move. I just sit around and wish intensely for it to happen—a strategy that has proved surprisingly effective.

The last time I conquested I persevered against all odds and I succeeded—only to find that the fantasy didn’t quite live up to the reality. That’s pretty much the whole point of fantasies, if I’m not mistaken: to make reality disappointing. Not to say that I didn’t have a lovely time, because I most certainly did. More than lovely. But it became crystal clear, in a way it never had before, that conquesting is a rather selfish endeavor, and two people being selfish together quickly becomes boring.

“Boring” doesn’t quite capture what I mean, which is actually closer to emptiness—my number five provides a prime example. The sex was silent and brief and anticlimactic—for me at least. I couldn’t figure out why he even bothered, but then, it takes two to tango and I was bothering too. I was always shocked when he asked me, after each exchange, if I had come. So shocked that I always answered yes. It was my first time faking it, and I didn’t even mean to.

I get the sense that it’s different for the guys I’m with. I’m not sure what’s going on in those impenetrable heads of theirs, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the same nervous analysis that’s buzzing inside mine. It seems more like a kind of complacency, one that drives me crazy...and that I can’t help but mirror. But it’s a dumb kind of mirroring—more like a pantomime. I’m not privy to the logic that governs his oscillation between devouring me and ignoring me, between his wanting to do sweet things like read aloud from Harry Potter but then not be my boyfriend.

But then, is it possible that I started it, and the complacency that drives me crazy is just my own, mirrored back at me? I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it. But I think the answer is no. I think that the male animal is better able to separate the physical and emotional in a way that I am simply unable and uninterested in doing.

But getting back to this professor. I’m sure that if by some miracle I wound up in bed with him, it would first be wonderful, and then be weird, and then I might be sort of over it. Right now I can’t imagine being over it, I suppose because it hasn’t started yet, and almost certainly never will. I’d like to think that after having collected a fair amount of these conquest-cum-letdowns, I could preemptively dismiss new ones as not worth the effort. Apparently I haven’t quite reached that level of maturity yet.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Synecdoche Nickname

Oh, to be called "L." It's belittling—literally—and delightfully so.

It's similar to the feeling when someone happens upon my main nickname, Linz, for the first time—I'm caught off-gaurd at how confident the syllable sounds in their mouth, how cavalier of them to call me what they please. When new boyfriends first say "Linz" I want to turn into a cat and rub the side of my face on them.

But L is different than Linz. It fills my heart with a more complicated joy. The first time my name was reduced in this way was in my first real job after college. My boss took to addressing me by L in his emails, as in: "L, do this. Signed, M." It was clear that I was interacting with someone important, someone who didn't have time for details like "indsay" or "ichael." I had never encountered such a person before, and I didn't so much want to rub against him like a cat as I wanted to perform the tasks requested swiftly and satisfactorily. I felt like a robot, a servant, or perhaps a secret agent—in the loop but also subservient.

This was one of the strange and surprising things about entering the professional world—people call each other by letters. There's nothing personal or familiar about the practice, but I can't help but react as if I'm being branded with a fresh new nickname. I start to see the L of me, and it's a different me than the Linz or Lindsay of me.

I suppose branding is what's going on here—a kind of corporate branding. It probably says something about the perversity of the workplace, and symbolizes the reduction of our complex selves into anonymous automatons of the state. But I'm new to all this, and not yet jaded enough to make a statement like that and really mean it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of Men & Music

Have you ever noticed the way some people seem to seethe sex through their skins? On the first day of running club one year in college, I made eyes with one such creature, and was immediately captivated. As we breezed down Broadway, I was high on endorphins from two potent sources—running and sex. Not long after, he became my number four.

Everything he did seemed an allusion to a sexual act—nay, everything he did was a sexual act; that was the whole point: for him there was no distinction between the arenas of sex-life and life-life. He moved through the world with a physical integrity that bespoke heightened sensual awareness; with a hyper-expressive face and mischievous smile, he seemed more fully in his body than others.

With guys like this, to interact with them is to think about being in bed with them. Everything is on display; nothing is hidden. They're like walking advertisements for themselves as sexual partners.

And as with advertising, the effect is instantaneous. With Four, all it took was a glance and a smile.

* * *

Sasha and I used to talk about how some songs you love right away, and other songs take longer. She’d make me mix tapes and sandwich the tougher-to-love songs between two instant gratification songs, knowing that I’d suffer through the weird, unfamiliar notes because it was a hassle to fast-forward. It worked—after listening to a new song enough times, it would transform into something entirely different than it had been when I’d first heard it. I wasn’t that I’d changed my mind about the song; the song itself had changed.

Often I ended up loving these ugly duckling songs even better than the instant-loves, which started sounding insipid if I listened to them too much. You could say that Four was like one of those songs, but the analogy is limited, because my attraction to him never dulled. With Four and others like him, when it came time to cut ties, it was never for lack of passion.

There’s a better parallel between men and songs that take longer to fall for. Sometimes a guy doesn't do much for me at first, but things change after I get to know him. It’s hard for me to reconcile this phenomenon with my belief in the integrity of physical bodies. I like to think that we are what we are, through and through: no soul behind the body, no life after death—as Nietzsche said, “Body I am entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body.”

It follows that I would know automatically upon meeting someone whether I’m attracted to him or not, and this is often the case. But when the opposite happens—when I’m not attracted at first and become so later—it’s not that I become so enamored with his personality that I decide to look beyond looks. No, he actually starts to look different.

I don't really know what's going on here. Why does becoming more familiar with something cause it to become more enticing? It seems that the opposite should be true. How is it possible for a song to go from unappealing to play it on repeat, and a person from forgettable to fuckable?

Anyone?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Suffering & Naiveté

I met my second boyfriend in a specialty running shoe store—he watched me walk and analyzed my stride, and then invited me to go on a hike. After we’d been together for some time, we’d tell each other our creation myth, as couples do.

“When I first walked into the store, did you think I was a 12 year-old?” I’d ask him, because this happens to me a lot.

“No baby,” he’d reply, “I could see suffering in your eyes. I could tell that you’d been through heartache; I could tell that you were old enough.”

A sweet beginning, no? He was right—the breakup with my previous boyfriend, in high school, pretty much sucked majorly and made a lasting psychological impact that apparently shone through my eyes. To be human is to suffer, right? We all do it.

I first learned about suffering the way kids learn about most things—by watching their parents. We were in the car one day, dad driving, mom in the front seat, me in the back. He was teasing her playfully about something, and she, being the sensitive one of the duo, burst into tears. It was the first time I had seen my mom cry, and I thought I could read her mind, and that she was wishing she could go home to my grandparents in LA, and wondering why she ever married my dad and let him take her away.

My mom used to tell me about how marrying my dad dashed her girlhood notions of being swept off her feet by someone tall, dark, and handsome. "Dark and handsome, maybe, but you have him to thank for being so small." I was always sort of surprised to hear her talk about her marriage like this—I mean, really? Love isn't grand and romantic and earth shattering? How disappointing.

As far as I can tell, my parents have a good marriage. Sometimes my mom exasperates my dad, and my dad makes my mom cry—but mostly they get along and seem to genuinely enjoy each other and maintain a satisfying sex life, about which they sometimes drop lewd hints at the dinner table. (I wonder where the desire to create this unladylike blog came from. Well, to be fair, it probably comes from my grandma, who once told my 9-year old brother, as he stroked a velvety soft ball of yarn she was using to knit a sweater, "One day you'll want a nice soft pussy to be stroking.")

So my parents have this stable marriage, and meanwhile, everywhere around me I've been reading all this shit about not settling for the status quo. A friend emails me a review of “A Vindication of Love,” a new book that is pretty much a paean to stormy relationships. If we want to find passion, the thesis goes, we must break free from our conventional notions of love:
“We have been pragmatic and pedestrian about our erotic lives for too long,” she writes, and in an examination of real and invented figures from the Wife of Bath to Frida Kahlo, she revels in love affairs that do not rely on our more hackneyed narratives. The result of Nehring’s literary and historical inquiry is a celebration of the wilder, messier connections. Her heroes and heroines tend to die, like Young Werther, who shoots himself; or try to die, like Mary Wollstonecraft, who throws herself off a bridge; or suffer, like Abelard and Heloise, one of whom is castrated and one of whom ends up in a nunnery. And yet Nehring admires these flamboyant men and women for the creative force of their affairs, for their ability to live outside the lines, for the ferocity of their feelings. She sees our modern goals of marriage, security and comfort as limited and sad, and quotes approvingly Heloise’s statement to Abelard: “ ‘I looked for no marriage bond,’ she flashed. ‘I never sought anything in you but yourself.’ ”In her most provocative and interesting chapters, Nehring argues for the value of suffering, for the importance of failure. Our idea of a contented married ending is too cozy and tame for her.

And my college rhetoric professor, on his blog, rhetorically asks us to consider our parents, and their marriages:
I want you all to think for a moment: Are your parents happy? Do they consume life with unabashed joy, with voracious abandon? Now think of all your friends' parents: Are any of them happy? Are they lit up—by life? By ideas? By art? By their respective spouses? Are they happy? Do they really love each other? Do they enjoy life?

Wait—yes! I think mine do, but I sense that this is the wrong answer. Am I naïve? I'm used to being told as much.

Once, a man said to me: “I get the feeling that things have come pretty easily to you in your life. That you haven’t had to suffer much.” He said it while he was doling me out a minor hardship, and the context made it feel a bit condescending—an older man implying that he knew me and knew what I needed. It’s true that I grew up with loving parents and lived in a nice town and went to private school and am a well-adjusted and productive member of society. But I sensed an underlying accusation, one that I’ve heard before: you are naïve. A naïve little girl. So much to learn.

I do have a lot to learn, and this man was good intentioned and probably didn’t have an inkling about all these dark undertones I read into his words. And yet: I felt robbed of my suffering, which is another way of saying I felt robbed of my legitimacy—my “reason for being,” as we say in advertising—and perhaps even my humanity.

The implication was that I had to break free from the status quo to suffer and experience true emotion if I ever wanted to realize my true creative potential—to find greatness. But I’ve found that life already offers plenty of opportunities for genuine suffering, without having to seek it out in some unconventional way—I saw it in my mom’s tears that day in the car, and I felt it as a naïve little high-school girl breaking up with her boyfriend. We all suffer—suffering is incredibly mundane, common, and vital, all at once.

So call me conventional, or call me naïve (you wouldn’t be the first), but I’m underwhelmed by enlightened attempts to find passion by breaking out of the mold—polyamory and what have you. I’m reminded of a summer day I spent sitting naked with a boy by a river in Yosemite. He was trying to convince me that there were no boundaries between lovers and friends—that conventional monogamy was a farce, and hence I should forget about my shoesalesman boyfriend back home and make out with him beneath the waterfall.

His logic was tempting, but ultimately unconvincing. I couldn't put my finger on why at the time, and my uncertainty led me into a gray area of cheating/not cheating. Nothing really happened, but when I returned to my boyfriend, the damage had been done and things soon fell apart. I may have been naïve back then, but at least I learned one thing: when a guy tries to convince me he knows me better than I know myself, he's usually just trying to get into my pants.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on No

No. It’s a word that lays boundaries—we were that, now we’re this, which is to say: nothing.

But it doesn’t always work that way. The serious business of “if she said no, it was rape” aside, no is rarely an absolute, and sometimes it means wholehearted yes.

There is the private no, when you’ve actually said yes but you’ve already moved on. Like the months of break-up sex with my high school boyfriend. I was so not interested, but I let him talk me into it.

There is the half-assed no, where you might as well be saying yes. Like when I knew it wasn’t a good idea but I sat on a guy’s lap and wore jeans with no underwear and let him sort of brush his hands around the edges. Just enough to not say no but not enough to say yes.

Side note: did I really just say I “let him” in both those descriptions? Ew. Therein lies the yes in those no’s, I suppose.

Finally we come to the no of exquisite renunciation. It says: you don’t get to have me anymore, so there. This no is particularly hard to come by, and can be painstaking to execute—but done well, it’s nothing less than triumphant. I don't say yes to everything that crosses my path, and saying no to certain things affirms my particularity.

I’m far from a master at this no, having used it only once or twice. I discovered it in the drivers’ seat of my car, dropping off my not-boyfriend at his apartment after a night out together. He had made the limits of our relationship clear weeks before, and I had voiced my frustration to no avail. But we were still sort of sleeping together, now and then.

“What do you want to do, Linz?”

I wanted to go inside and let him fuck my brains out, then cook a nice breakfast together in the morning. But after months of this relationship-masturbation, I knew I wouldn’t get what I wanted.

“I want to go home.”

Letting him out of the car and driving off took more discipline than almost anything I’ve ever done—and we distance runners have a lot of discipline, so that’s saying something.

In this case, I wanted a relationship and he wanted no-strings attached sex. But even in situations where neither of us want anything more than sex, I often find myself frustrated and in need of a good, solid no.

To another guy, I was something preferably ordered no more than 12 hours in advance of consumption. As if I would spoil if opened too soon—or his desire would.

This quickly became complicated. His schedule was unpredictable, so my attempts to initiate our trysts never worked. I never knew when I was going to be called upon, and I started making tentative plans with other people just to leave things open for him.

I was basically a call girl. And though that might have been part of the appeal, it gets tiresome when you’re never the one calling the shots.

That’s why these non-relationship relationships always come stamped with expiration dates. Destruction is written into their form. After a certain point, I get attached to someone or I get bored. Some people seem able to coast in non-relationships indefinitely, but this has never worked for me. Not that I don’t have fun while they last—I do, for the most part, but it’s a complicated kind of fun. It makes me unsure of my boundaries, and slightly nauseous.

In any event—harumph. It hasn't worked. No need for explication. As an old boyfriend used to say: I do what I want, goddamnit. It was his little mantra, delivered with a distinct and confident rhythm, and it conveyed a sense of ownership over his life—ownership that defied reason, ownership for ownership’s sake. He used the line to justify anything.

There was something very masculine about the way he said it. Something reckless and proud and rugged. Something I could use a little more of, I reckon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Six Eyes Are Better Than Two

In high school I spent a few weeks making out with a kid who thought he was Hunter S. Thomson. He carried his little reporters' notebook everywhere and wrote longwinded accounts of his mushroom trips at Stinson Beach. He also wrote a thing or two about me, as I learned when I caught a glimpse of his notebook one day:
It had everything to do with Linz, her beauty, wit, intelligence, artistry…I wanted to see what was behind this front that Niko and Matt tell me about.

There was something immensely satisfying in knowing that the gonzo-wannabe was thinking about me during his sessions of brow-furrowed scribbling; in a way, reading his notebook was even more satisfying than making out with him had been. He didn't know how to do anything worthwhile to my body, and even if he had, I wouldn't have known how to let him. So why did I bother?

As a means for delivering physical pleasure, our sex (or whatever it was) was unreliable. What it could deliver with remarkable success was the pleasure of feeling another's gaze on me. The making out had been mostly a game of imagining how the gonzo saw me: when I smile like this does he think I'm really enjoying myself? When I look off into the distance like that does he think I'm mysterious? With his notebook in hand, I was taking a shortcut straight into his head, seeing him seeing me without all the messy business of making out. And to top it off, these Niko and Matt characters had apparently thrown in their two cents too. It was like a gang-bang fantasy come true!

* * *

If there’s a motif in my writing on this blog so far, I think it’s this: that sex can make a girl feel split in two. It’s a phenomenon that affects me just as much now as it did at age 14, with the first boy who tried to do more than just kiss me—a yeshiva student in Israel, go figure. In that King David hotel room, and many times after, I slunk out of my body and watched from the sidelines, mocking his fruitless probing as a way to distract from my own feelings of awkwardness and inexperience.

And while I might not feel so awkward and inexperienced anymore, there is still sometimes a vast chasm between what my body is doing and what I’m actually feeling. It’s an acidic, persistent soliloquy that won’t shut up, that mocks and yawns and ultimately inscribes a circle of myself around whomever I’m with, so that our interaction is limited to the points where our bodies physically touch.

They say that for women, sex and attraction are all about being the object of a gaze. As Berger wrote: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." If this is true, it means I look out from at least three sets of eyes during sex: not just my own, but also from my partners' eyes, looking back at me (like with gonzo), and from those mocking eyes that watch from the sidelines (like on that hotel bed in Israel). I may go into sex as a unified self, but somewhere in the middle my perspectives and experiences fracture.

There's another activity besides sex that splits me into multiple selves: writing. Writing is a trick that I can't really play on myself unless I pretend I'm at least two different people. I'll write a few paragraphs from the perspective of that sex-spectator, cool and detached and utterly unsentimental, talking down to silly little me putting on a show for a boy. Then I'll read it again, this time imagining I'm the boy reading what I've written about him; then I'm someone else I've slept with, or someone I want to, or someone who intimidates me or whom I admire.

In this sense, isn't there something inherently feminine about writing? As a woman interacting with men, I’m very aware of myself as being seen—I see myself not only through my own eyes, but also through an imagined pair of male eyes. And isn’t writing a similar exercise? Don’t writers write for readers?

Even the gonzo, in his writing, was caught up with being seen—when we were making out, I could feel his gaze on me, but there was something narcissistic in the way he wrote about seeing me. He’d make a point of carrying around his notebook everywhere, and leaving it open on coffee tables to pages he must have been particularly proud of. When I caught a glimpse of my name, he actually gave me permission to read what he’d written, and then watched intently as I read his words.

The act of writing for me is a performance for fabricated readers, and it’s rare that I get to behold the beholding, so to speak. I’m always imagining how readers will see me, but I know that some readers won’t see me at all; I showed my writing to someone who read it right in front of me and was clearly skimming, scanning the paragraphs for something familiar sounding, or references to himself, perhaps. Kind of like the way he was with me in bed.

But what happens when someone really reads my writing is beside the point—it's the control I have over the various imagined perspectives that makes me go rushing to my journal after unsettling sexual encounters. I may not have control over whether the men I’m involved with see me or not, and when I feel like they don’t, sex carries a twinge of loneliness. But if sex splits me in two, writing joins me back together again—and isn’t joining what sex is supposed to do anyway? Often it doesn’t, and when I’m left feeling the weight of everything my partner doesn’t know about me, writing is an opportunity to set the record straight—a kind of reconciliation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's Not You, it's You.

The first and best rejection I ever got was from Alan Haimowitz in fifth grade. I made him a little cherry out of Femo clay and placed it in the palm of his hand after school one day.

Yes, I made him a cherry, I am dead serious.

The heavy symbolism of this particular fruit was over my head at the time, but I must have intuited enough to know that offering him my cherry was offering him myself. The next day he passed me the following note:
Dear Lindsay, thank you for your cherry. I don’t know if Sarah told you or not, but I want us to be just friends.

The letter didn’t give a reason. It didn’t apologize. There was no mistaking the message it contained: I don’t want you.

* * *

With many things, when we grow up we lose the innocent, effortless perfection of childhood; such is the case with rejection. As a teenager I learned the “I like you, but…” method: I like you but I’m already seeing someone. I like you but I’m not looking for a relationship. I like you but I’m moving to Siberia next week.

No matter how well intentioned or earnestly spoken, this strategy has always struck me as patronizing—as if the guy is scared I’m too fragile to handle the news that I’m not the love of his life, or even his sex life.

I much prefer Alan’s tell-it-to-you-straight method: you’re not to my taste. I don’t need any more reason or justification than that; taste is limited and fickle, and it’s rare to find someone who suits yours. This kind of rejection makes me feel not offended but relieved: I don’t have to prove myself or fight for your affections anymore. After that initial flash of disappointment, it’s quite a freeing feeling.

That’s why, when the need to reject someone recently presented itself, I thought it would be a great opportunity to brush up on my honesty and go with the straightforward approach:
Friday was great and fun, but after some thought, I've decided that I want to keep things platonic between us.

He asked why. I elaborated:
No particular reason, but I just don't think I feel that way about you. I guess these things are out of our control.

I wasn't prepared for his response, which was filled with spiteful-sounding sarcasm. I suppose I could have just been reading it wrong—such are the perils of electronic communication. Nonetheless, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Had I been too brusque? I sought advice from a friend, who showed me a copy of her own recent rejection letter for comparison:
I've really been enjoying hanging out with you the past few weeks, but I'm afraid after last night that our relationship may be heading in a direction I'm not really ready for. I love talking with/gchatting, climbing and biking with you, and I hope we can continue to do all of that. I just also wanted to take a step back and reassess because I'm not really looking for something romantic right now...

Sorry if this unnecessary. I just want to be as upfront with you as possible because I think you're awesome and I hope we keep hanging out. I just don't want to mislead.

Anyway, hope you're having a good day today, enjoying the rain. It's beautiful out, isn't it?

It’s a paragon of sensitivity, right? I can’t imagine someone responding sarcastically to such a beautifully-wrought rejection. But despite its kindness, it’s still total bullshit. She just didn’t find him attractive—same as me.

* * *

Before things ended the way they did with the boy I rejected, we watched the movie Man on Wire. Philippe Petit, when asked why he would string a wire between the two World Trade Towers and dance across it for 45 minutes, responded simply, “There is no why.”

His statement feels particularly applicable here. We’re always looking for reasons why we’ve been rejected, but are there ever any real reasons? Any reasons I try to come up with all sound painfully, ridiculously banal: too tall, not enough money, not smart enough, not funny enough. No, if I like you, I’ll forgive you almost anything. We might not end up together, but it’s not for lack of feeling.

Trying to quantify dislike is just as silly an exercise as trying to explain why you do like someone. When I started dating my last boyfriend, my mom asked me what I liked about him. “What do you like about Dad?” I shot back.

She thought this a hilarious response, but the humor was lost on me. What could I have possibly said? He’s nice, he’s funny, he’s a good guy—as if I could fall for anyone, or everyone, who possessed these common qualities?

No, attraction doesn’t work that way. The ones I’ve rejected didn’t stand a chance—being a little funnier or a little smarter wouldn’t have helped them one whit. Any number of people might fit your little picture concerns, but when you zoom out, the overall impression might not be that impressive. When it comes to attraction, the whole can be much more than the sum of the parts—or much less.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deconstructing the Low-Maintenance Ethic

I have a bone to pick with Sasha Frere-Jones from the New Yorker. This week he reviews Beyonce’s new album, in which she takes on the persona of Sasha Fierce, a “wilder alter ego.” Frere-Jones likes the music, but he quibbles with the message, which he sees as tame and banal:
Why is she out on the town? Because her man didn’t “put a ring on it.” But this is Sasha Fierce we’re talking about here. And what does Sasha want? Matrimony! When does she want it? Before “three good years” are up. “Single Ladies” is an infectious, crackling song and would be without fault if it weren’t the bearer of such dull advice. The wild R. & B. vampire Sasha is advocating marriage? What’s next, a sultry, R-rated defense of low-sodium soy sauce?

Now, this might sound a little feminist of me, which I regret, because feminism really annoys me sometimes (read: its reclamation of the word “cunt,” a former favorite of mine). But is Frere-Jones saying that if a woman knows what she wants and asks for it—and if what she wants happens to be commitment—then she’s being dumb and girly and cliché? High maintenance? Because that would be sort of fucked up.

Let me explain.

I used to think that being called low-maintenance was a badge of honor. Maybe this has something to do with where I grew up—I come from Marin County, which is wealthy but in a completely distinct way from the sort of wealth you might find in, say, New Jersey, where I have this image of girls clutching their Kate Spade totes close to their Burberry coats and batting their long eyelashes and twirling their pearl necklaces. Where I’m from, the only pearl necklaces we wore washed off.

I come from a hardier stock, where we peed in the woods and wore Birkenstocks and daisies behind our ears. The ultimate insult was to be called a JAP. When my high school boyfriend called me low-maintenance, I beamed. Yes, I thought, this validates the flowy skirt wearing, skinny-dipping, rock-hopping me.

But this paper-bag princess fairytale didn't hold up as well in college. I’d lie in bed next to the boy I was sleeping with—or were we dating?—trying to summon the courage to talk about what we were doing. But when I rehearsed the words in my head, I couldn’t get over how annoyingly girly it all sounded, so I kept my mouth shut. Every time I left his house, I felt the heavy loneliness of what I’d left unsaid.

“You’re not like all those other dumb girls,” he’d tell me.

“Yes,” I may well have answered, “they expect you to return their phone calls and make solid plans—but I’m always here for you when you feel like fucking.”

It wasn’t hard to figure out that those other dumb girls were the ones who wanted relationships, and that what I had going for me was being cute and fuck-able and not asking much of him. I wasn't sure how to feel about his compliment—I relished his approval, but I had won it by making him think that I didn't want the one thing I wanted most. It was a pretty classic case of putting some one else's needs before your own; this is what Sasha Fierce is rallying against and Frere-Jones is ridiculing her for.

Maybe I shouldn't blame him for not understanding. I get the feeling that it’s a uniquely female phenomenon to lose your rational faculties around a guy and start flirting on auto-pilot. This drive is so powerful that I can feel it at work even around men I'm not attracted to. In one such case, I had lost interest in my lover, but instead of telling him so, I tried harder than ever to make myself appear interested. And it worked; one night, with a spark of awe in his voice, he told me that he'd never slept with anyone who smiled as much as I did.

You don't have a clue, I thought, all smug and sardonic. But how lonely it is to deceive someone in this way, to isolate yourself with smiles. Just as lonely as lying in bed unable to speak my mind. In both cases, the person I was with was so utterly estranged from me and my wants. It's a shifty exchange we were engaged in, and neither of us knew the true score.

It's amazing how little good sex depends on trust.

And as much as I plead guilty to acting one way but feeling another, it's still hard to get over the fact that the amorous movements of other peoples' bodies do not reveal their feelings. Body language conceals and confuses, and I've had to learn to disregard it, or at least take it with a hefty grain of salt. If I can't trust your body, and you can't trust mine, what light do we have to go by? No wonder sex is so infused with confusion and suspicion.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's difficult to speak my mind, especially in sexual situations, and the last thing I need is a nationally-syndicated high-culture columnist making it even harder by furthering the idea that cool girls don’t talk about commitment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ode to Twenty-Three

Oh to be 23!

…And to be aware of what a light and free and generous time of life this is. My career? My love life? My biological clock? None of this concerns me much. Perhaps it should. I don't care. I am unencumbered. I love my life and its fullness—a flighty fullness like an escaped balloon rather than an after-dinner belly.

We all have to eat. We have to rest. We need money, we need social interaction, we need alone time, we want to fuck, we have to breathe, we want to sit around and get high and listen to music all day long. Balancing all this used to be something I struggled with and stressed over: Run or rest? Read or write? Write or draw? Work or play?

Every decision carried the weight of a declaration: If I chose to write and not draw then I was a writer and not an artist. If I chose to stay in and not go out then I was antisocial. If I chose to sneak out to see ONE and not sleep over at Sasha’s then I was that kind of girl.

But at 23 these choices hardly seem relevant. It’s “yes, and” to everything, and lo: there’s been a pleasant effortlessness to my achievements lately, as if the choosing itself were holding me back. 23 is a bottomless pit—nothing I consume weighs me down. I have so much more room in me than I used to.

* * *

At 17 I was a brooding, moody teenager. I felt a heavy, spiteful unencumbered—a don't-owe-nothin'-to-know-no one, fuck-it, nauseous kind of lightness.

At 22 and working hard on a farm, I longed for the good life I had in college: "a lot of freedom and not much responsibility," as my dad so aptly put it. But back in college, I wasn't walking around in awe of my freedom—I didn't feel that lightness in my bones like I do now.

Girlfriends nearing the end of this fine decade tell me that their clocks are ticking. Someone who would know told me that at a certain age, women feel an almost sexual desire to procreate. Sexual! What a strange application. The only sexual desire I’m feeling right now is for sex. These women are looking for not just a lover but a father, and when they meet a man, they can see the long shadows his shortcomings cast on their future.

So remote that it feels almost unfathomable is a life with my own crop of those coveted little beings. Friends who’ve crossed that divide say simply that “everything changes,” and then they get silent and contemplative and I can feel the great distance between us.

Over on this side of the divide, I wonder: is it my age or my outlook? I’m not quite sure, but I can say this: between the heavy past and the looming future, I’m finding the present pretty palatable. Let everything change when it changes, but for now: 23! And to know how good I have it!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Worst Birthday Present I Never Got

I was 18 years old, wispy and wanton and supple, and having sex with TWO, who barely seemed to notice me on him. He’d smile contentedly, let his eyelids fall closed, and look a little like he was lying on a lounge chair at the beach. I was in a different world perched there atop him, and I knew it.

When we were new, he politely declined my inaugural offering of a blowjob ("eh, I just don't really like them"), and I had to go down on my hands and knees to convince him otherwise. I knew I was dealing with a different creature entirely than ONE, who had to pull over on the drive home from school every day to have me before his homework.

TWO, as I’ve mentioned, was complacent about sex. Curiously, he was also the boyfriend who’d slept with so many girls he couldn’t remember the number. But maybe these things go hand in hand.

He was an incredible cook, and he’d make lavish meals for me: hand-rolled sushi and home-fried tempura. Ice cream with candied lavender petals that I helped him brush with egg white and dust with sugar.

He was also a DJ, and I’d follow him around Amoeba for hours as he buzzed through the aisles with a spring in his step, his face contorting in pleasure with each surprising discovery. When we got home, I’d watch from the couch as he stood at his turntables, his long neck arching gracefully beneath the weight of fat headphones, his long fingers pulling rhythmically at the vinyl.

Sometimes I would quiz him: Sex or music? Music. Sex or sushi? Sorry babe, I’ll take the latter.

* * *

For weeks preceding my 19th birthday, TWO hinted that he had some sort of secret surprise, some secret sexual surprise for me. When the day finally came, he took me out to sushi and then back to his place where we sat on the couch with his younger brother. The two of them rolled joint after joint and blazed in front of late-night cartoons. I grew tired and bitter as I sensed my secret birthday surprise slipping away.

I’d been delighted for weeks with the thought of my sexually complacent boyfriend plotting for my pleasure, but now: oh what a letdown. No mention, even. Wordlessly, but with a glare shot his direction in the dark, I climbed up into his lofted bed and tried to sleep. When he finally climbed into bed and I asked him about the surprise, he taunted me with “What surprise?” and said it like I was some sex-fiend, like I was his pet teenage girlfriend with the big ugly sex drive hanging down like hairy oversized balls.

Still wispy and wanton and supple but now 19, I fell asleep in a sexless loft saturated in birthday disappointment, and shamed by my stoned boyfriend's taunt.

* * *

I’ve had my share of guys who were a little mean, but what TWO did to me that night still feels like one of the meanest things anyone has ever done to me. No one else has put my desire in the spotlight like that, just to throw rotten tomatoes at it.

For all its immaturity, my relationship with ONE had taught me that sex was something fun and joyful—something almost innocent in its purity of purpose. But this understanding was torn at the seams with TWO. Whether he meant it or not, our desire disparity left me with self-doubt and him with a valuable resource in a relationship: Power.

Power plays weren’t on my mind back with ONE—maybe because I so thoroughly and effortlessly controlled the game. And even though I wouldn’t realize it until later, ONE taught me how power is exercised by giving (daily coitus on the side of the road). TWO taught me how power is exercised—even by men—by withholding.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On Curiosity & Boredom

Oh, to be in bed with someone new! The curiosity, the suspense, the surprise and the delight. The way his mannerisms translate now that neither of you have any clothes on. Because you just knew when you saw him walk like that or laugh like that or smile askew at you like that—you just knew he'd be fun, and you were right.

And the fun is so particular! Each fuck is a sparkling discovery: of tics and looks and laughs transformed, familiar but strange. The transformation of voices is especially acute. Once you've heard someone's sex-voice, they never sound the same. FOUR had such a lovely voice, with rounded words, like intricate hollow objects, or piping with water trickling through. And TWO had a toy box voice, a pop-goes-the-weasel voice, with all sorts of crackling surprises that made me blush and demur and look on in awe.

This is what gives me the most pleasure: to experience someone in all their specificity. Everyone's styles so deliciously different: I didn't know that a person could be like that! And their being constitutes a whole new take on life, a whole new life.

* * *

As a kid, when something funny made me burst into hysterics, it was always followed by a shot of panic: what if that's the last funny thing that happens, ever? What if nothing makes me laugh this hard again?

When I got a little older, the end of a sexual relationship left me with the same fear: what if I never have sex with anyone new? What if there's only a finite amount of newness in the world? Pretty soon I'll have discovered it all and be bored.

It's similar to a feeling I used to get lying awake in bed at night, paralyzed by the newfound realization of my mortality: I am finite. The things of this world are finite. Laughter and sex do not go on forever. Everything ends in death: the ultimate boredom.

* * *

Boredom, like death, can strike when you least expect it. I hardly knew FOUR when we began sleeping together—a first for me that should have guaranteed an endless stream of surprise and discovery. And it did, mostly. But sometimes I would catch a glance of something in his face that I recognized; it was the same face I first saw in ONE, and later recognized in TWO. A familiar something, neither attractive nor repulsive, but shocking for its banality.

Seeing this face obliterates my fixation on all those unique little features and mannerisms. You're nothing special, I think to myself. Seen you before, ages ago, a hundred times.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't Pin Me

When I was 19 and a counselor at summer camp, the thirty-something cook took a special interest in me. We'd stay up late talking in his tent and he'd dispense hard-hitting epithets on my character (We were also fooling around. Is that relevant?). I couldn't figure out how he had me pinned after only knowing me for a few short weeks, and I developed a sense of awe for what appeared to be great wisdom.

It wasn’t just me he had a knack for analyzing. He’d entertain me by going through our co-workers and pronouncing them this or that: Alpha-female. Type A. Or her parents didn’t love her enough. Or, she’s American, so of course she’s got no passion. Being in the company of such an astute observer was intimidating—at times it felt like he knew more about me than I did.

But then one night he tried to mock me for my supposed naiveté. “You’re just a giiiirl," he crooned. I protested, playfully at first. “Ok fine, you’re a WOMAN.” But that didn’t feel right either, and now I was annoyed. He kept trying to pin me down under his thumb and I kept slithering out; I could see he was struggling and it only made me more indignant.

I’m none of those things, I told him. Why can’t I just be Lindsay?

At first, his commentary had been chillingly accurate, and it made me want to believe everything he said. But now I saw how inconsistent his little pin-me game was, and I began to question whether he had ever really seen me.

It became increasingly clear that he had not—that he was incapable of authentic vision. The cook saw the world in terms of types, a strategy that allowed him to produce quick insight with limited information. The formula is simple: take a single observation, plug it into the appropriate category, and bingo: he’s an Achiever, she’s an Intellectual, or maybe a Creative—along with all the associated attributes.

But the same thing that allowed the cook to be so perceptive at times also prevented him from ever really seeing what was in front of him. Confronted with oddity or novelty, he consulted his mind’s library of archived experiences to help make an appropriate judgment.

This is what I think my favorite rhetoric professor in college was getting at when he talked about “seeing sameness.” A comment on one of my posts illustrates the utility of this mode of vision:
People (in mass) follow statistical patterns and can be described by generalizations, whereas individuals can't be. You don't need to make a new "sense" based on what could easily be a statistical outlier.

When you’re a physics grad student, like this dear little commenter is, it’s useful to streamline the process of seeing otherwise you’ll probably never get through the first steps of your experiments to look for variations in the fine structure constant. There will always be statistical outliers, and sometimes its best just to ignore them.

But when you’re seeing in terms of pre-established notions—seeing sameness, seeing what’s already happened—you’re not really seeing. And when we’re looking at art, or listening to music, or trying to really know a person, it's those statistical outliers that make a painting worth looking at, a song worth playing on repeat, or a person worth falling in love with.

We don’t always see what we’re expecting to see, and when that happens the temptation is to look away—to reach inside our heads for the Platonic ideal, and see that instead. But when we let go of preconceptions, we can look at a thing as totally individual and completely unique—not fitting into preexisting categories but forging new categories.

This is what I think my professor meant by seeing difference. It’s a way of seeing that’s interested in the features that distinguish an object, not the features that align it with some larger category. Seeing sameness is an act of gathering up the chaos of the world and organizing it into boxes. Seeing difference is making more chaos, doing away with overarching order. The only presumption it makes in looking at the world is that everything it encounters will be unique.

Maybe this is why I’ve never been able to identify with a political party. Those labels have never resonated for me; they feel like cages. They’re shortcuts, and though I'm aware of their usefulness, I want you to really see me, see me slowly and carefully and not call me a “giiiiirl” in a knowing drawl like that damn cook. Or a democrat. Or an intellectual. Or an achiever. Whatever. It sort of all feels the same.

I’m glad that other people can call themselves democrats and creatives and conservatives and introverts—really, I am—but it’s just not for me. Sorry.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

But I Didn't DO Anything!: On Womanhood, The Indigo Girls and Cockteasery

I've been listening to the Indigo Girls since elementary school, turned on by my best friend Sasha, who was turned on by her older sister Sarah. Sasha might insist that she came upon them independently, but either way, I still associate them with Sarah and the older-girl mystique she had: lipstick, high school, tampons, etc. I also associate them with summer days in Sasha's garden, and drives to Yosemite with the windows down when you get the first fresh breath of mountain air.

One thing I could never imagine is a guy turning on the Indigo Girls. If you happen to have one in the front seat of your car, a fun game is to blast the Indigo Girls and bask in your own girliness and try to catch them cringing. It's a good way to feel like a separate species from the thing sitting in the seat next to you. I've had boyfriends with a broad appreciation for music who insist that they think the Indigo Girls are great, but I'm not sure if I believe them, and even if I did, I'm quite certain that their appreciation does not run deep, like mine, like Sasha's, like Sarah's. When I turn on the Indigo Girls, it's because I want to hear the aural extension of a part of my soul that I'm pretty sure guys don't have.

***

I didn't identify with the Indigo Girls so strongly until I started having the kinds of experiences that once gave Sarah her worldly air. It offered a kind of escape for the times when I'd done too much and felt sullied. Their music takes me back to a world of prepubescent innocence—pre-guys, pre-sex. On second thought, this world isn't really pre-anything—unlike puberty, it's not a free-fall of teasing and flirting that finally culminates in the crash of intercourse. Boys are peripheral in this world; it's like an infinite extension of the peaceful afternoons I spent sitting in the garden with Sasha, licking sugar off lemons. Is this what Lesbianism is like? I wouldn't know, but I bet the Indigo Girls would.

***

There's one glaring exception for me to this theory of Indigo-girlhood Eden: Jonas & Ezekiel. The song is tribal sounding, rhythmic, heavy. Sasha put it on a mix tape for me that I played constantly on a family trip to Israel when I was 14, and so it was in my head when I found myself in the hotel room of a fellow young American Jew—Zach—whom I'd met by the pool. I was delighted with him when he flirted with me on the lounge chairs; I was in awe of myself as I sat on his lap on the swing set, my little sister watching from the adjacent swing. I imagined seeing myself in her eyes: old and experienced like Sarah had seemed to me. But I was far from experienced, and the half hour I spent in his hotel room left him unsatisfied, and me disgusted.

Apparently this is what they call a cock-tease. But I didn't do anything! Exactly.

As he fumbled with belt buckles and bra straps, I felt myself slithering out of my body and hovering near the ceiling over this mess of two teenagers. Look—he's doing this to her and he thinks she likes it. Idiot. When will this be over?

It was the first and most definitely not the last time I experienced the uncanny sensation of being two girls at once: the girl on the bed with her eyes half closed and her head tilted to the side in mock pleasure, and the girl in the air dispensing sardonic commentary on the coupling occurring below.

There is hardly any more lonely feeling.

Despite how icky the little tangle made me feel, I became fixated on it in the weeks that followed. I'd fast-forward my mix tape to Jonas & Ezekiel, close my eyes and let the drum beat and melody take me back to the hotel room and our awkward fumbling. With the music on, it was easier to recreate the scene in my head in impeccable detail: freckled shoulders, tucked-in sheets, the texture of the ceiling one that you could pull shapes out of—and I did.

It wasn't exactly what you'd call fantasizing, since the whole thing revolted me, but it was strangely similar…