Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 “There is only one success –

to be able to spend your life in

your own way.”  Christopher Morley


They say not to judge a book by its cover, but when browsing in the bookstore I can’t help looking at the author’s photo, and maybe judging based on that. Maybe it’s just curiosity, shallowness, or the familiarity of putting a face with the words. I saw one recently a while back that really spoke to me, immediately and strongly, and the image has stayed with me in my mind’s eye, though I couldn’t tell you the name or the book’s title today. I’m not really the type of girl to get spontaneous emotional reactions to random things, so when I do I take note.

It’s just a normal photo, she’s looking over her shoulder, in a white oxford shirt, natural hair and makeup, a calm smile on her face. The words it put in my head were these: The objective reality of your life doesn’t matter, what matters is to live a life that you are proud of. Whatever that might entail.

I guess it must have been the simplicity, the pureness of the look on her face, and the serenity that seemed to come from that. A woman at peace with herself. It doesn’t matter what she might have planned for herself: going to a prestigious university to build some high-fueled career, or what her childhood friends might have expected from her, or what her family all do. Whatever the path she took, she was happy with where she had ended up, able to let any regrets go. And that’s all I could ever ask for in life: to wake up one day pleasantly surprised with where you’ve ended up, and to know that it is your own.

a few favorite female authors: Zadie Smith, Sophie Dahl, Plum Sykes

Thursday, August 13, 2009

sizing up

You’d think it would make you more nervous, but it’s a surprise and a relief when just the opposite happens.

You worry about how you look when you go out with a few girl friends; you agonize over what to wear before you head single to a party. Maybe you spend a long time in the mirror sizing up flaws, thinking trend and silhouette and extra-length mascara. Because, as animalistic as it sounds, you’re trying to see what you can hook, to get the best you can, to successfully hide those insecurities and even show off a little.

            But then when you’ve got a new guy, as early in as the second or third date, you don’t have those worries you’ve grown so accustomed to carrying around with you. For me, on my very first “real” date, it was as soon as I walked up the subway steps and saw across the sidewalk the guy I was going to meet. The nerves are all in the build-up. And what surprises you most, is you, minus the anxiety. Minus trying to get anything you don’t already have right in front of you, minus trying to be anything you aren’t already. Frankly I think this is why people like the casual stage of dating, before you’re worrying about things going wrong, when you’re sizing them up instead of yourself for once.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


She comes, in and I ask how the movie was. She hesitates, as if collecting scattered thoughts, and says “I loved it. Did you see it?”

And I can tell she’s annoyed at me. “No.”

“Oh, where’d you go?”

“Just out for a bit.”

That’s the way it is with someone you know that well. You can tell they’re annoyed even when they don’t say anything, even when there’s not even a hint in their tone. As often as not, it’s what they don’t say. And I hate that. It’s a sort of shorthand, a silent helpful warning not to stumble into an argument, but most of the time I wish I could play dumb to the clues instead. Pretend I don’t know something’s up, ignore her feelings, and carry on like everything’s all fine. Because it should be.

Maybe she’s annoyed that I went out, earlier, without telling her where I was going. Or that I didn’t want to go to the movie with her in the first place. Maybe she’s just been talking about me at dinner before the show, or on the drive home, and whatever complaints came up, they’re fresh in her mind, like something I’ve just done. I’m tired of walking on eggshells, always being on a completely different page from someone I know so well, and am supposed to be so close to. It seems like everyone once in a while she just decides to be mad about something, and it doesn’t matter what, or the timing. She can ignore whatever’s going on in my life, if I might need support, because of the little storm she’s cooked up in her head.

But there’s nothing you can do right in times like these, except go around just a little bit tense, your breath held in, until it passes. And retreat a bit, start to seek understanding, comfort even, elsewhere, which I expect is the exact opposite of what she would want. 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

a rare light

It’s a funny thing you notice when you stop listening to the words of what people say, and instead listen only to the sound. Maybe it’s that you see people for what they really are, with that clarity that lets a complete stranger, detached in their interests, instantly understand us better than anyone we’ve known for years.

You notice the woman who’s a little too quick to laugh, and exclaim, “That’s too funny!”, trying to show herself, for the benefit of men, as that playful, fun ideal. Easy-going, endlessly spontaneous. You notice the girl who is soft-spoken and deliberate in her words, careful not to misstep and to only say what she means; she wants to be taken seriously, but without bold moves, only secure steps. Because no matter how honest someone’s words are, their behaviors are always acting for them, spinning a web unconsciously around them. And it’s only when you forget whatever impression you’re trying to make yourself, and really watch them, that you get a sense of who they truly are.

There’s the young man who’s a consummate politician-in-training, sure to say hello and goodbye to everyone he meets individually before heading home. When he talks to you he’s intensely present, “like you’re the only one in the room”, and you have to ask yourself if maybe there’s something there between you? But of course this is how he is with everyone, and so you wonder how he doesn’t get exhausted with it, and how you would know if you actually were close to him. Maybe he gets nervous then, the veneer cracks. But while this all might seem calculated, you can tell that in him it's genuine; it stems from a genuine desire to be respectful to everyone in turn, and from having been taught impeccable manners and how to get along from a very young age.  The honesty of it maybe makes you wish you could be that very good, well-meaning girl he’ll end up with, though you know of course you never could be.

It’s a rare light to see other people in, but rarer still to catch a glimpse of yourself in. I think it only comes around when there's nothing you're trying to maneuver in the moment, nothing you want that you don't have, no anxiety or self-consciousness creeping into your actions. When you date someone new, once you're sure you have them, before you worry about losing them. When you have those fantastic conversations that you can't remember a word from, only the gesture, the feeling of it, like an image from outside of yourself. When you can see yourself really happy, with no insecurities weighing you down. And you can distill yourself down to a few adjectives. And you  wonder – is it possible this is how everyone else sees me?

Photo from . Because it's totally appropriate to illustrate a point with a vodka ad....