So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

We received our divorce decree today.

Over the last six years I have, understandably, developed a number of strong opinions about marriage, and someday I’ll figure out how to express them. Not surprisingly, a number of them will not be as positive as I might wish.

So today, while I’m thinking about it, and before I loose those on the world, I want to go on record with all the things about my marriage I’ve enjoyed and am grateful for. In no particular order, then:

  • Having my very own taste-tester to let me know whether the salsa (etc.) was safe or too spicy for me to eat. And while we’re on the subject:
  • Being taught that I enjoy Mexican food (really, I can’t imagine how I ever thought I didn’t). And being introduced to pho, although I wish more places made it as well as the place we went to in Arkansas (go figure). Oh, and frozen yogurt. And street meat. And bourbon!! And discovering that my all-time favorite wine region is… Michigan. Yum.
  • Having a husband who’s a better cook than I am, and who has vastly improved my understanding of such subjects as seasoning. (This list isn’t all food, I promise!)
  • The best in-laws a girl could have. Their first and last words to me were expressions of love and support, and I am sad that they are no longer family I can look forward to visiting yearly, but I’m happy to have the memories of the time we did have.
  • The opportunity to experience different parts of the country in-depth. It was always funny when people tried to sympathize about our criss-crossing moves. No. I was thrilled to go to Maine and Vermont, places I’d always wanted to go but might not have made it to, and certainly wouldn’t have lived in, on my own. And even though Kansas wasn’t a place I would have chosen, I’m glad to have lived here, too.
  • Our long at-least-weekly walks in the first couple years. Having someone to walk with me – and distract me by talking about the houses we passed – was the essential component in finally getting my 3-year-long ankle sprain to heal. And also, the opportunity to learn at least a little more about health and fitness… and finally learning how to ride a bike.
  • Being introduced to a couple of handfuls of musicians I wouldn’t have discovered on my own, some of whom are already staples of my listening, some who are yet to be fully explored.
  • Having a car mechanic, a computer technician, a plumber, an electrician, a general contractor, and all around mechanically handy person in the family. I’m going to miss that.
  • Cross-country road trips. I grew up in a very flying-oriented family, so road trips weren’t really part of my vernacular. I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I enjoy the long-haul driving. And that there’s something very meditative about an overnight drive that means I really didn’t mind taking the 3 a.m. shift. And that the real joy is in the back roads.
  • Some of the nerdy cultural touchstones I can’t imagine not being familiar with – Lord of the Rings, HP, Eragon – were things I was first exposed to by my husband. When you’re planning to name your (hypothetical future) children after the characters you admire, it’s safe to say those things have made an impact.
  • When your sanity depends on proving that you can be loved, you get much better at identifying and cultivating the most likely sources – and cutting out those relationships that are harmful. For both of those reasons, but mostly the former, I will never again be as sad or as lonely as I was before my marriage. I learned that I already had more and better friends than I’d ever realized, and my ability to connect with new friends has increased exponentially. The effect this has had on my life cannot be overstated, and it is something I have not yet ceased to regard with wonder.
  • The opportunity to test – and prove – my childish hypothesis that I can survive anything.
  • Being forced to focus on and work through my issues, as fast as humanly possible, along with the crash course in how to consider others’ feelings and needs. I’ve said it a dozen times, I’ll say it hundreds more: I feel like I took the 5-year shortcut to 20 years of growth. And I value that enough that if given the chance to go back in time and change history… I might just sit back and let myself go through it anyway.
  • And I’m grateful, too, for the vast increase in love and patience that makes that acceptance possible. Don’t think letting yourself suffer sounds like love? I think it is. I think it’s a rare and powerful compassion that says, “I understand you, and I know that although it won’t be easy, you need this. And I know you can handle it, and I wouldn’t dream of holding you back and denying you what you need, just to give you the illusion of comfort.” Because as much as we might think we’d rather do without trials, our Before is never as easy or comfortable or happy as our After. Staying permanently in “Before” isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. So I think that perhaps, if you aren’t grateful for the hard times you’ve had, you haven’t yet learned all there is to learn from them.

Considering all of this, there’s one thing that keeps echoing through my head, one thing that seems in a funny way to sum it up best, so I will say it: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

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Friends & Family

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately: what a blessing it is to have true friends, and what a long journey it is sometimes to find out who they are.

My current definition of a real friend: Continue reading “Friends & Family”

The Rapey Boy of 21st St

He wants it intensely. No matter how many times you say “no” or try to push him away, he keeps coming back, holding your leg, pressing himself against you. He has needs. How can you be so cruel as to deny them?

Readers may be relieved to know at this point that I am not describing a human assailant or an even slightly traumatic experience. Rather, I am talking about my puppy’s desire to get on the couch with me. Continue reading “The Rapey Boy of 21st St”

You Are = You Do = Love (or not)

In January I read an article titled “6 Harsh Truths to Make You a Better Person”. It’s written in a style that is deliberately confrontational and provocative, but that’s because it’s meant to jolt readers off their butts and get them to do something. If you can’t get past the tone to the underlying truth of the article, go sit in your room for a couple of years and then try it again when you’re ready. I’ve read it about four times since I discovered it. Continue reading “You Are = You Do = Love (or not)”

Going to Your Brother, Again

My husband and I both have a particular small failing, and not so long ago we received a complaint about it. We could see that the relationship with this person had suffered because of this failing, and we felt bad. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” we wailed.

“I did,” was the devastating response. Continue reading “Going to Your Brother, Again”

The Void In The Universe

I never understood grief at death.

Well, that’s not totally accurate.

When the spouse or the child or the best friend in regular contact dies, I understood the gaping hole it leaves in a life. I understood the sudden crashing down and the time it takes to rebuild that.

For the person who is atheist/agnostic/believes in “this life is all we have” I understood the pain of the thought that the dead are gone eternally, wiped from earth as if they had never existed.

When there has been a strain in the relationship, anger, neglect, whatever, I understood the self-recrimination, the agonized loop of “if only I could go back and set it right” that can never be.

I understood even the sort of irony that smashes into the solar plexus: the father who dies days before his child is born; the scientist who dies weeks before his research discovers the cure for cancer.

But, none of those things being true for me, I didn’t understand my own sadness. I won’t even dignify it by the name of grief; I am not sure that a tear or two at Mozart’s Requiem, or at remembering from time to time the natural grace that made him a natural at every sport, or a half a dozen other little things, is really of a scale to qualify.

We had not been in contact for years, so no hole was left. True, that would have been a source of serious regret had we not found each other again two or three weeks before his death, with a joy and a triumph of certainty that we always would. (This is, after all, someone who signed my senior yearbook with his full name, birthday, and social security number so that, as he said, “You will always be able to find me.” Ah, the epic romanticism of teenagers.) For that matter I still believe we will meet again.

So, then, why sadness? It was so puzzling. And I wondered, what does that say about me, that I cannot understand so simple a thing?

A friend of mine suggested that “grief, like happiness, is a function of intensity, not time.” This was comforting, in that it validated my right to my own feelings, but still felt too simple…

I think I understand it now.

When someone vanishes completely from the surface of the earth – pouf! – you are left loving a void in the universe. You might as well pick the blackest spot in space, a hole between stars, and love it. It is preposterous. The mind rebels.

I see him in his unknown grave, because my mind will not let him be nowhere. Or I see him still alive, because I wish to speak to him, but I know he exists only in my mind, in a vast orb of space and time where I can never reach him. Will never reach him so long as I live, and when I think of it, life seems long indeed.

I understand now the urge to believe in immediate ascension to heaven. Or reincarnation. Or anything that isn’t – pouf!

I love a void in the universe. Is that not cause for grief? I think it is.

Peeing on the Carpet

Our five-year-old dog, who had been pretty well-behaved since her puppy training, has recently decided that every time we leave her alone she’s going to, shall we say, moisten her surroundings. Because she clearly knows this is wrong, and slinks around the house as soon as we get home, we’ve been classifying this as vindictive, manipulative behavior, but I wonder whether it isn’t something else – whether, like most acting out, it isn’t an expression of simple unhappiness.

I can almost hear her reasoning. “It makes me so unhappy when they leave me. I’m sure if they knew how unhappy it makes me, they wouldn’t do it. But I can’t speak, so I’ll have to think of something else. I know! I’ll pee on the carpet. I know they don’t like it, but surely they’ll realize something is very wrong if a good girl like me does something bad like that.”

The thing is, of course, we know she’s unhappy. She frowns at us when we leave for work and assumes an expression of grave concern at any unexpected getting-ready-to-go-out.

Nor is there any way for her, as a dog, to understand that no matter how much she might wish otherwise, we have to go to work and we aren’t going to change our minds about leaving her on a Sunday so we can attend a friend’s wedding.

So the question is: when we encounter one of those situations in life that is what it is no matter how we feel about it, or in which the only way for us to express our feelings is to make a scene, hurt or cause discomfort to others, do we have the maturity to realize that what we want is not always relevant and keep our feelings to ourselves, or do we pee on the carpet?

Trying Not to be Selfish

Let’s face it: marriage is disastrous for blogging. When I resumed in September I didn’t say it was a 52-week project or that I would post every week, but such was, of course, my intention. Then miss two weeks, post one (at the absolute deadline), miss – what? Two weeks? Three weeks?

But when you have a husband who is at school two days a week and often studying until 7 on the other nights, dinners must be cooked and dishes must be washed and at some point the laundry must not be allowed to remain in its state of filth. And afterwards, in spite of our best intentions and repeated resolutions, we often find ourselves too tired or too headachy to do anything but sit down to a nice episode on Hulu.

And I find myself resenting it all.

Yes, of course I had chores when I was single, but aside from keeping some semblance of friendly roommate relations, there was no reason to do them if I had something more “important” to do. Now, no matter how much I want to accomplish something for myself, I always seem to end up doing the chores instead because it will relieve that much pressure from my husband.

To be clear, it’s not that he doesn’t do his share. I feel bad plenty of times that he didn’t get as much homework done as he wanted to because he was running errands for the household: taking the recycling, doing the grocery shopping, dropping off my shoes at the repairman because he’s going to be on that side of town anyway.

And it’s not that I feel particularly “guilty” about not blogging. If I’m going to feel guilty about anything it’s about not exercising and being more targeted about my diet – the idea being that those things would create more energy (and therefore more usable time) where none currently exists.

No, it’s just that I miss the reading and writing that go into blogging. There’s a book I’m desperate to read that I’ve checked out from the library twice. Twice, because I maxed out the renewals the first time before making meaningful progress through it. Tomorrow I’ll max out the renewals again. And I’m maybe 10 pages further along than I was when I returned it the first time.

15 weeks to read 60 pages. It’s no wonder I feel like my brain is slowly shriveling up and dying of starvation.

For now, I’m not sure what else I can do than continue what I’m doing. Only one thing is clear: if this low level of selflessness is beyond me, I am so, SO not ready for children.

Complaining for Peace

Here’s a thought that’s going to sound very strange: The way to have harmony with others is not to reason ourselves out of being offended.

I know, it sounds crazy, right? Somebody does something to annoy you and it’s so natural to think, “It’s not worth making a fuss about such a small thing, so I’ll be the bigger person and will just put up with it.” But you put up with it for years and suddenly when you do mention it, out it pours in a heated tone nothing like what you intended, and now it is a fuss.

It’s tempting, too, to praise ourselves for patience. “I didn’t complain for so long!” But what has that actually gained?

And how often have we refrained from saying the difficult thing to someone about their own behavior because we’re afraid of offending them? It’s right to be concerned about their feelings, of course. But is it right to be so concerned about their immediate feelings that we doom them to stay in patterns that may well hold them back in life, or lead to less happiness in the long term?

It’s never pleasant to hear criticism of my behavior, but it is a greater favor to me to force me to hear it than to say years later, “I have noticed this bad trait you have for a long time, but haven’t given you the chance to do anything about it.” Does more peace result from grudgingly putting up with, say, a harsh and condescending tone, or from helping the person see and change it?

Granted, there are some – perhaps many – people who don’t accept this reasoning and don’t allow others to offer them correction. But they’re not doing themselves any favors. Everyone has at least one failing. Right? Anybody disagree with that? I didn’t think so. Here’s another poll: anybody happy that they have flaws? Anybody not want to be the best person they can be? Yeah, there are a few, like my old boss who told me he’d “earned the right to be a jerk.” But most people want to think of themselves as good people, rational people capable of acting in their own best interests. Isn’t it in your best interests to hear and consider what others have to say about you?

And it’s true, not every criticism is accurate. But most have a grain of truth that can be used. For instance, an acquaintance recently told someone something about me which, when repeated to any number of people who actually know me, was greeted by shouts of laughter and the comment, “You are the last person who would do that.” But on reflection, I could see why someone who didn’t know me would think that, and consider whether some aspects of my behavior could be improved.

As the sage says, “If one man calls you a fool, ignore it. If a second man calls you a fool, consider it. If a third man calls you a fool, believe it.” So if you are someone who doesn’t like to listen to criticism, consider: you can ignore it! But listen, so you’ll know if you hear the same thing again.

A final thought for those special readers who really don’t have any failings: please take pity on those of us who do. Most people are afraid of offering even the gentlest criticism because of the large minority (majority?) who don’t take it well. That is the direct cause of Well-it’s-not-worth-making-a-fuss syndrome. So the next time someone approaches you with an obviously wrong criticism, please, listen calmly. Hear them out. You’re still free to disagree. But respect the courage it took to approach you – even if you wish they hadn’t. That way, those of us who actually view constructive criticism as an act of friendship can have more friends – and maybe one day we’ll be as perfect as you.

Microscope vs. Telescope

One of the most educational aspects of my trip to New York was the hotel. I was allowed to book somewhere I had particularly wanted to stay and was therefore very, very excited – which is not something one can often say about business trip hotels – in spite of the very divided reviews on TripAdvisor. It seemed that people either love it or hate it, with little to no middle ground.
 
I expected that I would tend more to the “love it” side, and indeed, here is a partial list of Things About My Hotel That Made Me Happy:
  • The atmospheric (aka dim) lighting. It made it like a nightclub for intelligent people.
  • Keycards that NEVER demagnetized, even when I accidentally put them next to my phone.
  • The tiny perfection of the room’s arrangement, even if it didn’t always adhere to “Anatomy for Interior Designers” best practices (i.e., if you can’t fit through a space 9” wide, you’ll have to climb over the toilet to get in the shower)
  • The Library Bar. It’s a Library! And a bar! Together! Genius!
  • A very effective air conditioner which did not rattle, thus soothingly drowning out Blondie’s “Atomic,” which could be plainly heard echoing up from the courtyard 7 stories below at 9:59 p.m.
  • Hudson Hall. The concept pleased me – Harvard/Oxford-esque communal dining made cool (and also fitted out with a beautiful bar).
  • Unbelievably delicious bread.
  • Louis-something chairs painted silver and upholstered in mustard suede – the perfect blend of uber-formal and rocker-chic.
  • Potentially snooty design, very casually helpful staff. Almost everybody I dealt with was somebody I’d want to be friends with, too. The combination made the whole place fun and cool rather than pretentious.
To be sure, there were things here and there that were escaped perfection by some little distance, but I greeted them with cheerful indulgence. It was much like when Junior captures the neighbor’s cat and starts pulling out all its fur, only to have his doting mother exclaim, “Oh, boys will be boys! You can’t expect them to behave all the time!”
 
But eventually some of these things needed to be dealt with, which was more of a hassle than it should have been, and all of a sudden everything snowballed. I was going to present you with Things About My Hotel That Made Me Furious, but honestly, the list goes on and on. You know how it is – once you see one flaw, you see them everywhere. Eventually it overwhelmed all the positive feelings I started with until my whole mood and demeanor collapsed under the weight. 
 
I had to force myself to refocus. Get out of the room with patchy internet, and go sit in the Library Bar with a book. Don’t think about paying $19 for a nectarine (don’t ask), just take another helping of the spectacular bread. I was never able to get back to that early, effervescent delight, but at least I wasn’t angry all day.
 
The thing is, I still really do love parts of the hotel. (As a product, not an experience. I can’t help viewing all this as a lesson in Marketing and Brand Promise failure. But I digress.) And I knew almost from the moment I stepped inside that loving it would be the product either of them having a really good day, or my willingness to make allowances, my ability to ignore the less-than-ideal details and revel in the concept of the place. The hotel does not fare well when gone over with a fine-tooth comb, but if you zoom out a bit and add a bit of romantic blur to the picture, it’s irresistible.
 
From a marketing perspective, it’s great that the standard of service has been raised so much and customers have gotten so pampered, but expecting, and demanding, perfection isn’t the best way to enjoy it. Nor is it realistic. Things will never be perfect – and neither will people.
 
There’s an old saying that you choose on a daily basis whether you will be happy or unhappy. And we know that love is a choice too. Turns out it’s the same one.