Saturday, July 30, 2005

Terror, obligation and boredom

Well, THAT occasion was a dud. Thank God.

All week, ever since I got the invitation to the premiere of M.'s documentary, about an obscure 19th-century Irish female, I have been feeling nauseated. I knew, by all the rules of karma, acquaintanceship and social credibility, that I had to attend. M. has been nice to me; she has called me up and invited me out, several times, to events and venues at which I have had an excrutiatingly horrible time. She has borrowed the use of my computer and repaid me handsomely in alcohol and African music CDs. She has invited me into her home. She has attended my openings. I needed to go.

At the same time, I knew that if there was one event in New York City where I was most likely to run into the ex, it would be this one. The ex kills time by attempting to fix M.'s obsolete, moribund computer. He gives her my ex-bicycles. They get drunk together, if they happen to find themselves in the same bar at the same time. The ex thinks of this sort of thing as friendship. In New York City, if your friend has a premiere, you have to go.

It's not exactly M.'s fault that I have a terrible time whenever we hang out together. She just doesn't understand that everybody doesn't like the same things she does. She really gets going around the time I collapse--between 11:30 PM and 6 AM. She likes hanging out with, and screwing, big, oppressed, angry African males. She likes loud music and cigarette smoke and long, blasé conversations about how everything's fucked and there's nothing you can do. When I hang out with her they close the bar around us and she refuses to leave, and big black men hit on me and refuse to take 'huh? no, thanks' for an answer. When I try to hang out with her I feel like I'm being tortured. But she's great, really she is.

So since I got the invitation I have been hemming and hawing and thinking of other, pressing engagements that could possibly occupy my Friday evening instead, which, since I am lame and in transition and coming out of a long depression, I don't really have. I have been thinking of what sort of support system I could bring with me. I have been planning my wardrobe.

Finally I decided to bite it and do the hero. I went bravely, solo, in a dress that H. donated for exactly such occasions: five-dollar, thrift-store bin, floor-length petroleum 'fuck me now' clingy thing with a thong and no bra. Amber beads and hoop earrings, eye makeup, lipstick, shiny blonde hair brushing my nipples. I've been doing a lot of yoga and you know what? I look O.K. Better than the folks who spend their time drinking heavily and bitching about how everything's fucked and there's nothing you can do.

You know what else? Those people are LAME. At least five of the folks standing on the sidewalk as I walked up have been invited into my home, and fed, and entertained. They have attended my openings. I have been privy to some of their darkest secrets. We belong to the same Circle of Friends. And none of them frickin' asked how I was. The time has passed when I blame myself for such rudeness; after I have smiled, said hello, offered congratulations or a compliment or asked for a career update, I feel my task is finished. If no follow-up is forthcoming, well, I'm free.

The featured films represented five years of M.'s hard work, a career-to-date retrospective lasting an hour and a quarter, and I consulted my watch. M. is a filmmaker at heart; she likes pointing a camera at things, faces, happenings. She sympathizes with the obscure and the oppressed. And that's all. Man, was I bored. No, that's harsh. I was miffed at having been snubbed on the sidewalk; I was in a highly critical state of mind. I tried to get into the aesthetics of super-8 and black-and-white, of grainy closeups and disaffected soundtracks, of nameless faces and artistic anomie, of lack of plot, and purpose, and point. I didn't try hard enough and I failed.

I had mixed feelings about skipping the reception; I really, really wanted a free shot of Jameson's. But I also had to drive, and also would have had to socially exist during the time it took to drink it. I forewent the Jameson's, congratulated M., showered a couple of ex-acquaintances with random good energy and bolted.

But THANK FUCKING GOD my ex wasn't there. For all his blocks, negativity, manipulation and horribility, at least he has something approaching a goddamned mind. I might have been tempted to talk to him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


It's GONE. My beautiful bicycle, my lovely green Jamis Tangier, my freedom. From outside the yoga studio. Wire-cutters. My heart is broken, broken, broken.

I managed to resist my 3 AM impulse to take this out on my ex-boyfriend, at least directly. His astral body received innumerable kicks in the kneecaps during the course of a long, sleepless night, but I doubt he would have noticed--his astral body is under constant attack from his own mind anyway.

Renter's insurance----pffft. Useless. They wouldn't cover the bicycle if I was actually USING it at the time, and the deductible is $500 anyway. I've been trolling Craigslist all morning, but I'm probably too raw to get another one right this instant, sort of like adopting a kitten the day after your 14-year-old Little Kitty dies in a tragic accident. The bonding process could be irrevocably disrupted.

I LOVED that bicycle. Just the other evening I rode it to the East Village to hear a member of my artist's circle perform; I was wearing my deep blue sundress and the actress chick told me I looked glamorous in my helmet. After a couple of gin-and-tonics and some fierce disembowelling of the performance at Lucien's, I took it home the long way, through Chinatown and over the Brooklyn Bridge, singing moody Glass Eye songs that welled up out of my art-department days, when it was just us and Kathy McCarty till 3 AM, crashing bass chords and the high unearthly purity of Kathy's voice.

Time has stolen you from me, Christine
Has made each prospect fade with the evening
Like a ghost, you have withdrawn
Like two children you and time are gone.

I thought, crossing the canal at Union street and turning up 5th Avenue, how Brooklyn feels like my own private fairyland at night; the trucks and the crowds have mostly disappeared, uncovering the mystery of industry asleep, and the fact that I sort of know my way around the city now is somehow remarkable, not just a battle for survival. I felt that I was healing; I felt that I was becoming free. I am so sick of this shit.

I wasn't even going to call the police, but could not quite remember whether my insurance would cover this or not, so I decided to get a report just in case. In practice this meant standing on a street corner for nearly an hour, in damp yoga clothing, fighting back tears, to obtain a completely useless piece of paper. The two blank-faced beat cops who eventually arrived were nonplussed and impassive at first, but after ten minutes, during which the black one fumbled and wrote the report with dyslexic recalcitrance, the Puerto Rican one decided I was okay, told me to sit down in the back seat and they'd drive me home. We had a cheerful chat on the way about stress, yoga, and cultural backgrounds, and he called half an hour later to say they'd found a guy on a Jamis, what color was it? Green, not silver, I told him. But thanks for keeping an eye out, I appreciate it. I really did. It pays to be friendly to cops, something my ex-boyfriend never understood.

To numb out my mind for the rest of the evening I re-read "The Man in the Brown Suit," my favorite Agatha Christie novel ever. With every passing year I am more acutely aware that Agatha Christie is cliche'd, redundant, mannered pulp, but when you fall in love with an author at the age of 8, the magic never really goes away. Also, re-reading prose that was the pinnacle of my romantic ideals at 14 gives me some insight into the deeper nature of subsequent expectations and bitter disappointments. Listen to this:

"You look like a witch, Anne," he said at last, and there was something in his voice that had never been there before.
He reached out his hand and touched my hair. I shivered. Suddenly he sprang up with an oath.
"You must leave here to-morrow, do you hear?" he cried. "I--I can't bear any more. I'm only a man after all. You must go, Anne. You must. You're not a fool. You know yourself that this can't go on."
"I suppose not," I said slowly. "But--it's been happy, hasn't it?"
"Happy? It's been hell!"
"As bad as that!"
"What do you torment me for? Why are you mocking at me? Why do you say that--laughing into your hair?"
"I wasn't laughing. And I'm not mocking. If you want me to go, I'll go. But if you want me to stay--I'll stay."
"Not that!" he cried vehemently. "Not that. Don't tempt me, Anne. Do you realize what I am? A criminal twice over. A man hunted're so young, Anne, and so beautiful--with the kind of beauty that sends men mad. All the world's before you--love, life, everything. Mine's behind me--scorched, spoiled, with a taste of bitter ashes."
"If you don't want me---"
"You know I want you. You know that I'd give my soul to pick you up in my arms and keep you here, hidden away from the world, for ever and ever..."

Well, I mean, really. By the end of the novel young Anne Beddingfeld, orphaned, penniless, unchaperoned and feckless, has received four proposals of marriage, one on-the-fly job as a newspaper correspondent, and not a single indecent proposition. To be fair, she has also narrowly escaped two or three murder attempts. But when she turns down proposal #2, from the strong, silent, Secret Service agent millionaire, he sets his iron jaw, nails the murderer, and then declares,

"Anne, do you remember that I told you I knew what I had to do?"
"Of course, I remember."
"I think I may fairly say that I have done it. The man you love is cleared of suspicion."
"Was that what you meant?"
"Of course."
I hung my head, ashamed of the baseless suspicion I had entertained.

"The Man in the Brown Suit" was published in 1924. Okay, so women had only been voting for four years, and "suitable jobs" for them were limited to parlourmaid, governess, secretary and wife. And for God's sake, it's Agatha Christie. But what I sorely miss about this chauvinistic era, what my heart still yearns for at 3 AM, is not necessarily a steely-eyed, darkly troubled man to fling me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry me off to Rhodesia (though this wouldn't necessarily come amiss); it's the baseline tension created by a shared cultural concept of honor. People don't necessarily live up to the code, ever; but at least they know it's there.

At thirty-seven, I don't get as angry as I got at seventeen. I no longer slap strange men, the way I did Carl Kutack, when he sat down behind me at a party, poked my ass with his big toe, leaned over and murmured, "you wanna go for a walk?" It's one of life's common ironies that once you have the experience to handle illicit propositions, you get fewer of them. Yesterday afternoon, though, a fat black man in a silver sports car pulled up next to me at a stoplight and called out, "You sure is beautiful. You wanna give me a ride?" I smiled brightly and said, "Thank you very much, sir, but no."

"Why?" he asked.

"I'm just not interested. But thanks," I replied, rolling up my windows. It took me years and years to learn how to do this; years and years to curb my impulse to be polite, to tell the guy I was married or gay, to give him a lecture on manners and decency, to stop taking it as a personal insult. Now, I take it as a compliment, but that still doesn't mean I have any inclination to accept the offer.


You're not a steely-eyed, darkly troubled man with whom I have fallen passionately in love at first sight, of course.


I hate to break this to you, men, but most of you are not very good in bed. The best of you need several weeks' worth of patient re-education before you can reliably compete with a vibrator. One-night stands do not provide the scope for such training, and are thus, on even the most basic level, not worth it.


Do I need to spell this out? AIDS, pregnancy, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, cervical cancer, painful and expensive abortions, painful and expensive children, death. Offensive body odor, kissing like a giant goldfish, bad teeth, bad breath, farting, bizarre noises, slobbering, juvenile remarks. Knifelike pelvic bones that slam into thighs, leaving greenish-yellow bruises. Excessive body hair in unattractive places. Sleep deprivation. Boredom. Betrayal, abandonment, broken-hearted nervous breakdowns.


If you kiss me, Mister, you must think I'm pretty
If you think so, Mister, you must want to fuck me
If you fuck me, Mister, it must mean you love me
If you love me, Mister, you would never leave me
It's as sim-ple as - can - be...(ching)

--Dresden Dolls

For the record, the reason I slapped Carl Kutack was not that I found him an unattractive lout. The reason I slapped him is that I'd had a crush on his heart-rending, crinkly-eyed smile for the last nine months, and he didn't even remember meeting me until that evening, when his girlfriend had dumped him and he was drunk and horny. I slapped him because he had eyes for my behind but was blind to my value.

This afternoon I took the N train to Union Square, and not only were the brakes unoiled, screaming violently at every curve and stop, but something in either the air conditioning, the PA system or the fluorescent lighting was emitting a high-pitched, piercing whine which I found nearly unendurable. I spent the entire journey with my fingers in my ears, and nobody else on the train seemed to notice it AT ALL. Two-thirds of them appeared to be asleep, and the rest were reading or staring blandly into space. When I got off the train I could still hear the whine until I was halfway up the stairs. The rest of the world is deaf.

I usually don't talk about being 'sensitive,' for fear that people will think that I'm a whiny wuss. I didn't even realize I was 'sensitive' for the longest time--I thought I WAS a wuss, and that other people found loud, dissonant noises, fluorescent lighting, horrible smells, emotional tension and superfluous whining every bit as misery-inducing as I did, but were putting a brave, stoic, courteous face on it. Then I read a piece of pop psychology on my lunch break, called "the Highly Sensitive Person," took the test, and whoa, nelly. Finally I felt justified in asking for the music to be turned down, the door to be shut, for my lover to take a goddamned shower and quit being so !@*(&# rough. I'm not frigid, I'm hyper-responsive. I'm also brave, stoic, and courteous. Please don't hurt me any more.

Monday, July 11, 2005

This is my life

Today's schedule: 9 AM, get up, feed cats, shower, make tea, read New Yorker, email, journal, blogs, painting analysis, lunch. 2 PM, massage client. Change into painting clothes, work on large caty-wampus painting, because supplies from Jerry's have not yet arrived. 6:30 PM, yoga class. After class, go to bank to deposit massage $$, to co-op to pick up basic supplies and submission form for ad in "Linewaiter's Gazette," in the hopes that I can get more clients. Dinner. 9 PM; bike to East Village to hear member of artist's circle perform in piano bar. Midnight; meditation, Course in Miracles, bed.

A large part of my feelings of artistic and social paralysis, guilt, isolation and fear have to do with the fact that a deep inner part of me is sure, sure, sure that something terrible will happen to me for living like this. I mean, what? I'm not WORKING. I am not getting up at an agonizingly miserable hour, getting on the subway, sitting in an ugly place doing tedious, boring things for 9 hours, taking the subway home again and spending my evenings trying to summon the energy to make Great Art while physically, emotionally, morally and spiritually exhausted.

Well, something terrible WILL happen to me, if I don't get more clients and nothing sells out of my show--eventually, that enormous check to Phil the Neanderthal I have to write every month will bounce, and me, my plants, cats and paintings will be homeless.

But every time I look into getting a miserable, boring job, I look at the numbers, and realize again that one massage client=one ENTIRE DAY at miserable, boring job. And so I spend one more week in guilty limbo, and one more, and one more. Pray for me, pray for my lazy, unrealistic soul.

Yesterday I went again to Sund4y at Sunny's, and again nobody would talk to me, despite the fact that I was smiling and approachable, but I've come to expect this and really, really just continue to go for the readings and the free coffee. Beforehand I stopped off at BWAC to check on my painting, and I was glad I did--they had moved it, and hadn't printed any labels saying who painted it or how much it cost. Also, all my postcards and their dispenser had disappeared, along with the pen for my comments book, which vanished even before the last show opened. So fuck it, I stole another dispenser, borrowed a hammer, nailed it up, filled it with postcards, returned the hammer with thanks, and hassled John and Anna about the labels. I don't know if they will actually get printed, but my postcards are there. It is my goal to place every single postcard in a good home before my show comes down in September. I used to think that self-promotion was vulgar, but in New York it is a necessity of survival.

A woman in a sunhat and bleached-blonde hairdo about 20 years too young for her was berating Anna for saying that her work was 'not as strong' as another artist's. She was ranting loudly about how "you don't have to LIKE my work, I'm self-taught, I've been working for 20 years..." as if this made her look less like a total jackass for pitching this particular kind of fit. Note to outsider artists: never do this. There are right and wrong kinds of fits to pitch. When someone drops your painting on a nail and punctures it, it is permissible to report this fact tearfully to every important person within earshot, provided you take it home and fix it in a way that proves you know your shit. You can make people re-print your labels if your name is misspelled, but you may not whine that so-and-so's painting was hung in the best spot because she's the borough president's campaign manager. Basically, the goal of fit-pitching in the art world is to demonstrate absolute, internal self-confidence, so that next year you get the spot next to the campaign manager.

I learned the art of effective fit-pitching in art school, during the course of several successive and obviously rigged 'competitions'. There was one student who exemplified, to my mind, everything vile about institutional politics; being a mind-bogglingly bad artist, her path to career success lay through blackmail. "I'm being discriminated against for being a mixed-race black/Native American lesbian," she would cry, when she wasn't on the list for the scholarship, honor studio, or gallery jurying--and they would actually give her the award. I would have shot off my big toe to avoid association with her.

But after losing the scholarship, two successive gallery juryings and one honor-studio competition, I felt that I could not safely rely upon talent, discipline and quiet integrity to ensure my career advancement. When the results of the final, staggeringly skewed honor-studio competition were posted, absent my name, I marched up to the list in broad daylight and wrote on it, clearly, in ink. Then I dropped the matter entirely, being charming and polite to all faculty members whom I knew had dissed me.

They got the sign down fairly quickly, but not before several student body ringleaders had passed by and read, aloud, "'Go to hell. Go directly to hell; do not pass Go, do not collect $200. (signed) Serena T. LaBella.' BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

This would not have worked, of course, if my talent, discipline and relatively quiet integrity hadn't earned me some name recognition among the student body; I think the faculty were afraid of me. The day before the semester ended, I got a call from the head of the painting department. "We found you an honor studio. Another student failed to re-qualify." They gave me the best one. The student who failed to re-qualify was the black Native American lesbian, oddly enough.

Saturday my big adventure was biking to Pearl Paint for 200 ml tubes of titanium white. I was in a horrible mood, having decided to torture myself by digging up and re-reading the last letter sent to me by the ex-lover who, up until the beginning of May, was calling regularly and begging me to visit him because he was horny. In May I abruptly stopped hearing from him until two days before my show hung; then I received a cheery little note describing the rains and the flowers and the amiga who is visiting him through August. At the time I allowed myself thirty seconds to be startled and upset before I decided simply to never contact him again, and pushed it out of my mind. But Saturday morning I realized, "wow, that's really MEAN," and burst into tears.

Biking into Manhattan on a sunny Saturday didn't help my mood, unfortunately. The Brooklyn Bridge is fun to bike across, except for the tourists who stand planted in the middle of the bike lane with their cameras pointing at lousy shots, and the toddlers on tricycles who stray determinedly into your path, and the packs of bored teen-agers who look right at you and don't get out of your way, and the couples holding hands who don't look at you at all and don't get out of your way, and the other cyclists coming the other direction who seem determined to run you off the bridge, or into the tourists. Then once you get to Canal Street it is gridlock in every direction; pedestrians stepping off the sidewalk directly into your path and staying there, trucks unloading in the middle of intersections, traffic cops who defend the rights of no-one.

Then in the paint department at Pearl, a salesperson asked what I needed. "Your best deal on white oil tubes," I said. "Professional or student grade?" "Professional, definitely." "You're in the wrong aisle. Professional grade is over here, at $18 a tube. Goodbye," she said.

Well, I go through about a tube and a half of white a week, when I'm in form; 'professional' or not, $18 a tube for Gamblin is too high. I skulked back to the 'student grade' aisle, hid three $8 tubes of Georgian under my bike helmet, treated myself to a couple of new palette knives to ease the pain of humiliation, charged the lot on my 'emergency' credit card and left. Not wanting to feel like a friendless loser, working alone all weekend, I decided to stroll around Soho before returning to Brooklyn.

Soho sucked, too. All the outdoor patios were full of people having fun in merrily chattering couples or groups; all the sidewalks were full of crappy art and jewelry, all the stores were full of size-4 princess clothing that was ludicrously out of my price range. I bought an ice-cream cone and felt fat, lonely, poor and guilty. After checking out the 'sale' at French Connection and discovering that they still wanted $40 for a size-4, almost-out-of-style-and-season tank top, I decided to head for home.

Just as I hit the Brooklyn Bridge, the thunderstorm broke, seemingly out of a clear blue sky. Huzzah! Suddenly all the happy people were screaming and getting out of my way. By the time I hit the peak of the bridge, I was drenched. By the time I coasted down the other side, I was trilling "'Till there was you," joyfully unto the Lord, and the one other wet cyclist who heard me and laughed. I sang most of the way home. Water on the skin is the best mood-rejuvenator I know. The glow lasted till the next day.

Sunday my rear wheel fell off when I was halfway across Hamilton Avenue, by the freeway exit and the Battery Tunnel entrance. I removed the wheel to change the inner tube on Thursday; I don't know how or why I was able to ride on it for two days if it wasn't properly re-attached. Some guy stopped and made ineffectual suggestions while I got it back on, largely unassisted. He reminded me of, and very well could have been, my last Nerve date nearly three years ago, who caused me to swear off online dating forever. I seem to recall that the 'clueless, desperate elf-guy', as I think of him, had, as one of his main conversational foci, the number of miles he'd clocked while losing 75 pounds (but not the pot belly.) Not the adventures he'd had, not the things he'd seen or thought about, just the mileage.

Fortunately he didn't seem to recognize me. Up until that historic date, I had assumed that men who asked me out through Nerve were, at least, reading my profile, and contacting me because they divined a spark of commonality between us. Oh, naive idealist, I. I never actually PAID for online dating, because up until quite recently, men outnumbered women 3 to 1 online. Also, it bothers me, chasing men; I want to be courted. But not courted by men whose standards are: female; has pulse; will listen to me whine about the hundreds of other females who, quite properly, blew me off. My final Nerve date caused me to break ranks with the ironclad politesse of a lifetime. After what was probably only twenty minutes of conversation which included, on his part, casual racism, embittered whining, weight loss/mileage ratios, and an offer to jump into my lap, I said, 'This isn't working out for me," grabbed my bag, hat and coat in one fell scrabble and bolted, shaking off the bad energy like a horde of rabid mosquitoes. I kept looking back in desperate terror that he might be following me.

So, well, meeting men by losing my bike wheel on Hamilton Avenue isn't working; neither is going to literary readings or weekend parties upstate. My friend H. asked me, "so, what do you want? Just some casual fun?"

No, no, no, no, no. I have spent my life slapping the faces of men who just want casual fun, then pretending that what I wanted was casual fun, then stopping that pretence and going properly apeshit on people who toy with my soul. Goddammit, I want a Real Relationship. One where, if there's a problem, the two of you discuss it and work it out in some way. Is this delusional and unrealistic? Other people around me seem to be having weddings and babies and buying houses and going to couples counseling.

Not that I'm whining, really. Really I believe in karma, and divine guidance, and resonance with particular people, and in making a life-plan to learn certain lessons before we're even born. I notice that in the past, I've simply run into the people I've needed to meet and recognized them, without having to make any particular effort. I'm just wondering when the next one is going to come along. Hello? You out there? I'm ready now. Not perfect, not even flat-tummied, but sufficiently de-traumatized from the last one that I can handle more punishment. At least I think so.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More yoga

I mean it about the yoga, that's ALL I want to be doing. I feel like I'm pulling my psychospiritual programming fibers out by the roots and re-planting them where they should have been all along, where, I can barely remember, they USED to be.

To waste time, which I have too much of, I have just been reading political blogs. This will upset most, probably all, of my friends, but such things don't make me angry any more. Why don't they make me angry? Well--

1) I'm just too tired. Anger is painful, destabilizing, makes you feel powerful in the short run but in the long run it makes you helpless, knawing yourself up from the inside.

2) it becomes increasingly clear to me, the more I live on this planet, that everybody involved in any conflict is responding, not just to the situation at hand, but to acres and acres of their own personal baggage. Lesson 7, A Course in Miracles: "I see only the past." Shit, yeah.

3) Getting angry over someone's dumb comments in a blog give that person, with all of her blindness, weakness, confusion and misplaced anger, power over you. Getting angry over something strengthens that thing; it acknowledges and reinforces notions of power and helplessness. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

I don't get involved (much) in politics because I no longer believe the problem is Out There. What's Out There is a projection of my own mind. It makes no sense to fuss with it, lash out at it, manipulate, plot and construct it. It's Not There. Manipulating external events is like trying to change the plot of a movie by swatting at the space in front of the screen while it's playing. The source of the movie, the projector, is the MIND. Change your mind, change the movie. Or even leave the theatre.

One of the younger yoga teachers at the studio has been going on and on about karma, and planting seeds of good thoughts, and helping others. She thinks we're being 'resistant' to the notion; my suspicion is that we're being polite. I, at least, refrained from telling her, "Thanks, I've thought about this already, like, more or less continuously for the last 20 years or so, since you were in elementary school." She's a sweetie really, and her class kicks my butt, enough so that I will tolerate being patronized.

Just at the moment I don't want to get into a discussion with her about what it MEANS to 'help others.' Just at the moment it seems clear to me that I will never help others properly or effectively until I radically help myself. Just at the moment I need to let go of both past and future, and this is easier to do while trying to align my hips while bent double in a lunge and twisting to one side, sweating profusely.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Media creature

Here's my volunteer auctioneer gig, and evidence that I've gained weight since the last time I was on stage. Well, okay, so it's Not About Me. Check out the inside of the eerie old boat.

I spent the Fourth alone and in the city, just like I did three years ago, when I'd just moved here and my best friend went completely insane and decided I was Satan. I suppose I could have called Neneng-girl and pestered her to invite me upstate, or to whatever whirlwind of fun she's caught up in this week, or I could have volunteered to cook a barbeque in the back yard of H.'s new beach house, or even caught a last-minute flight to Texas. But something in me rejected these solutions, whether it was pride or a need to sort things out.

Basically, the only things I really want to be doing these days are fussing over my potted plants and going to yoga class. I wish I had an actual garden to fuss over--the potted plants don't need much attention. I got a cutting from Baby, the Lady of the Evening plant stolen from Peru six years ago by a friend of J. H.'s, and in only six weeks it has put down roots, sent up a new shaft, and popped out several new leaves, which are all swelling fleshily. The miniature rose on the fire escape is flourishing, as are the ficii, the habanera helix, the Christmas cactus, the rubber plant and the African violets. The orchid and the bromeliad, however, refuse to flower. A guy in a shop in the East Village suggested they might not be getting enough light, there on my bathroom shelf. He may have a point; I moved them both to sunnier windows and will keep you posted.

A good friend recently said, "Therapy is scary. When you confront your issues, it feels like you are dissolving, like you don't exist." He said this, I think, to make me feel better about the fact that my ex-boyfriend dumped me rather than try it. I still thought of it as just another stupid rationalization. But just at the moment I'm questioning every single habitual method I have of relating to people. I still feel like I exist, but I only really feel safe in yoga class and in my apartment, preferably under one or both cats.

I went up on the roof to watch the fireworks, and met my next-door neighbor. This guy has been here since two months after me, and I would swear to never having seen him before. Our roof turned out to be an excellent vantage point--they had synchronized displays on Staten Island, over the East River around midtown, and what looked to be either Harlem or Queens. It was cool, and so was my neighbor, an architect/city planner from India. He turned out to be another valuable source of information regarding buildings in Brooklyn; just as I start thinking 'this project is hopeless, nothing will ever happen,' another clue falls from the sky.

My baby cat is nearly recovered! Just as I thought he surely had AIDS, and would waste away by slow degrees, he meowed when I opened a can of tuna, and snarfed the whole thing down. It was like Tigger and the extract of malt. Six cans of tuna later, he's bopping things again. It's a miracle.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Burning away the roses

I sold the breakup painting. Or rather, the head of the BWAC mafia sold it, as she majestically informed me, when I went to pick it up and couldn't find it. "I told the English lady, 'It will change your life,' and offered to carry it downstairs for her," she said, in her sonorous Russian accent. The people at BWAC are starting to be friendly toward me, at least the ones in with the mafia. The price of that painting was probably twenty percent of their gross for the closing weekend. I'm shocked that it sold; it wasn't a painting I'd ever hang in MY home, but then I was the one who painted it to a repeat loop of John Mayer singing "'All you need is love' is a LIE, cause WE HAD LOVE and we STILL said goodbye, now we're TIRED...battered FIGHTERS...". It also weighs about twenty pounds because it was painted on canvas stretched over a made-in-Mexico panel; the irregularities of the edges were one of the things that the head of the mafia had to explain away as 'feature, not flaw.' I'm so glad it is out of my life. It will also pay my rent this month.

I sold another little painting a couple of weeks ago, to a high-school friend I hadn't seen in 20 years. Then another friend looked at my website and wanted to buy the same one. This baffled me; it was my least favorite painting in the show by far, to the point where I almost didn't hang it. The second friend said she liked it because it was more optimistic than the rest of them. She also said that it was obvious, from looking at the work, that I've been depressed all year. So much for brave concealment of suffering under a stoically cheerful exterior.

It was wonderful to see my high-school friend. In high school we had the kind of friendship that is described by child psychologists as "parallel play." We attended the same ballet classes five or six times a week, and sat together at lunchtime and at football games in strained, awkward silences. We both had blonde hair and blue eyes, had good grades and no boyfriends, and people got us mixed up. I always figured that deep down, we probably had nothing in common.

Come to find out, we've practically got parallel souls. Once we finally started dating, we were both drawn to men who did their own repairs on their trailer-park cars, having acquired in high school a visceral repulsion for the ones whose parents gave them a Beamer on their sixteenth birthdays. She had either better instincts or better luck than I did, however--she's been married for thirteen years to a professional dancer who grew up in a trailer park. They have their own dance company Santa Barbara, a house in Sedona, and a six-year-old daughter with blonde hair and glasses. She spends a month every summer with her daughter in a different exotic location--last year, it was the next town over from Guanajuato. She says she loves my work because "it's so spiritual." I told her, "let's keep in better touch."

Before meeting my friend and her family for dinner, I had a crisis of confidence and bought a new outfit with a poufy skirt, anti-aging eye cream and toenail polish. I gave myself a pedicure, super-conditioned my hair, and put on eye makeup. Well, my friend is still a ballet dancer! And I've gained, like, thirty pounds since high school, I limp, I'm single, financially unstable and live with cats.

"We look almost the same as we used to," said my friend. And so we do.

I've been getting acupuncture. The first session seemed like a total waste of time. I got needles all up and down my problem meridian, from right scapula to left ankle; it hurt, it wasn't relaxing or fun, and it didn't do anything. The acupuncturist insisted that I return. We were swapping, so at least it didn't cost me anything. Codependently, I agreed.

The second session was astonishing, just like acupuncture is supposed to be; she stuck needles in my right arm, and my left ankle felt better. It didn't happen all at once--I could feel a steady stream of pulses running up the arm, through the shoulder, down my back and threading through my left hip, to bop down against the injury in the tendon at the ankle bone. "I think we've found it," said the acupuncturist. "These meridians aren't directly connected, but they're distantly related." The ankle tendon got better immediately and stayed better. Moreover, I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream about telling off my bastard ex-boyfriend, with my right arm meridian in knots.

So it is as I suspected--this is about codependency. Codependency, I have discovered, is the ace of spades on my forehead. I did not know it. My best instincts have created my worst problems.

When one of my best friends stopped bathing in college, I continued to hang out with him. I sat through movies at his right elbow, trying desperately not to breathe. We even made out once or twice. I never said those magic little words, "R., please take a shower or I will not sit with you. You STINK." I thought this would be rude and unloving. Eventually I started avoiding him instead.

In nearly all of my relationships, especially sexual ones, I cut people slack. I cut them way, way too much slack, for all the wrong things and all the wrong reasons. Some part of me is always thinking, "they know they're being rude, vulgar, unreliable, mean, and treacherous. They know they're trampling my boundaries. They can't help it. It's not personal. To show I love them, to show I understand, I will not object. I will accept them the way they are, knowing they are perfect. And when my boundary gets blown to smithereens, I will adapt."

Also, I don't want to be a weenie. A spoiled princess, like that girl in "Free to Be, You and Me," who insisted, "Ladies first, ladies first! Untie me this instant, Mr. Tiger! My dress is getting mussed!" So they ate her. Recently I have realized that this was wishful-thinking propaganda. High-maintenance women, far from getting fed to the tigers, are status symbols in most human societies. Cool-ass workhorses like me are wives for poor people.

But now that I know, I am working on it. It's a slow process. Last weekend I went to a party upstate, an overnight "bacchanal" with costumes and bonfire. I went as a bare-navel'd gypsy, and brought my body paint.

(Note: Sexy, for me, is not at all like sexy for Badger. Sexy for me is taking my hair down. "Hot" is wearing a 'tiny-fit' T-shirt with a pair of pants that aren't two sizes too big for me. So for me, letting down my hair, tying a scarf around my forehead, donning a sarong and an Indian top cropped just under my bra-less cleavage, then painting a curly gold sun around my belly button, was tantamount to declaring, 'I am a wanton woman. Let me paint your neck.')

Unfortunately, ninety percent of the men attending were married, gay, or wearing a satyr suit with no butt coverage. (Badger should have been there instead of me.) The married friend attending with me, with unerring instinct, seized the one single, overage male, who was happily engaged in welding a trellis, and dragged him over for a paint job. He was cute, in an earthy sort of way, and we got along. He's an organic farmer and artist's contract welder, and visits my neighborhood once a week to weld for a 'famous artist.'

To cut a short story short, the next day four of us girls got a tour of the organic farm. It was informative and charming, and we harvested strawberries and snap peas. Even in my new vigilance, I failed to dock him points for the fact that, although he'd slept in his own home and not in a field of four-foot grass the night before, he had failed to shave, bathe, or put on clean clothes that fit properly. Well, he's a farmer. Farmers work in the dirt. Don't be a weenie.

But I really, really needed to use the bathroom. The farmhouse wasn't on the tour, but I got a neighbor to show me the way. And on the way home, I wrote a new Rule: "Never date a man whose home is as clean as his barn."

Chickens. Chickens in the living room, and all that that implies. No books, either. This man does not need a wife. He needs a MOMMY. (Thanks, Beck-beck.)

I was pretty depressed about it--not the farmer, that was a quiet triumph of the New Boundaries--but about the fact that the way I see it now, most of my past has been a waste and a tragedy. Most of what I thought was "patience, love, forgiveness and understanding" was codependent behavior that did other people no good at all, and landed me in a yearlong depression and near-bankruptcy. I felt that maybe it's too late, I've lost my chance, and that since I don't know how to relate to people anyway, I'll only live with cats for the rest of my life.

But that was yesterday. This morning I woke up feeling that the past was, finally, past. I don't need to DO anything about it. I don't even need to write back to the ex-lover who invited me to visit him, and then wrote again to say that another girlfriend was visiting, but who knows when she'll leave? As soon as I figure out how to do it, I will delete the phone number of the investment banker from my cell phone, the one who committed to helping me fund my project, then announced that he was moving to Vermont to study Chinese. When I invited him to attend a members-only event at the Whitney last winter, he made another date for the same evening, and immediately after the opening he left me standing on the corner in a blizzard as he jumped into a cab. I figured that maybe he didn't KNOW this was rude.

And as for the future, well, it will be easier. I will no longer follow the Rule that it is rude to TELL someone when they're being rude. Miss Manners writes for a class with a clue, and unfortunately, I don't always socialize with those people. I'm practicing, in my head, phrases like, "Please don't whine. It bothers me." "No, it's not okay, thanks." "No, I'm not interested in a polyamorous relationship. It was nice meeting you. Goodbye."

Who knows what will happen then.