No Woman No Cry

22 November, 2010

Part I

When I was younger, I’d often join my mother and older sister on the couch on what was usually a cold Sunday night to watch the Hallmark Hall-of-Fame weep-a-thon movies that CBS would air to counter-program the sports on other networks. The movies could never hold my attention the whole way through, which was fine, since their plots and formulas were easy enough to anticipate. There were a few favorite templates that were regurgitated with a rotating cast of middle-aged TV actresses: the lonely social worker who fights for custody of orphaned crack baby, the long-lost relative who must care for baby orphaned by war, a host of unrequited love scenarios littered with semi-political but non-offensive themes. They all shared the main idea of Woman Must Fight the System To Do Good Or Fall In Love. My mom and sister seemed partial to the orphaned baby custody movies; a good thing, since there was no shortage of them.

I would float in and out of the family room as they sat huddled on the couch, my mom often with lesson plans sitting forgotten in her lap, as their eyebrows turned towards the heavens with sympathy for the poor orphaned baby and the plight of the woman who wanted to save her. I’d sit and watch for five minutes, and, being a snarky 14 or 15 year old, I’d mutter “Cheesy” or “Lame” at some inopportune time, eliciting glares from my mom and sister. I’d glare back and get up off the couch and continue to wander the house as I put off doing homework. I did like to go back and (silently) watch the end of the movie, just to find out if the woman was successful in her quest to keep the baby, or if the state or the negligent relatives from the backwoods got custody (the movies were always based on true stories, so they said, and there was no telling which outcome would triumph).

Towards the end of the last commercial break before the movie’s gripping conclusion, I’d pop down on the step between the kitchen and family room and try to keep my mouth shut. No matter the fate of the poor orphaned baby and well-intentioned savior, my mom and sister would end the night with tears streaming down their faces, silently weeping over the heartwarming/tragic outcome of the movie. I sat entirely unaffected, and would break the silence of the closing credits by hypothetically asking why the protagonist didn’t just do this thing or that to help her case.

My comments were not exactly welcomed by the tearful lot on the couch. Four wet, angry eyes would stare at me. More often than not, one of them would cry “Don’t you have a heart?!” or “Do you have any feelings?!” or “Where is your soul?!” (I think it was my sister who muttered that last one, through a kind of half-assed sniveling.) Of course, there’s not much to say in reply to something like that. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I’d usually endeavor to reason my way out of it, explaining to them that yes, I have a heart/soul/feelings, but it was all Hollywood make-believe and there’s no reason to cry at an actress, on a set, in front of a crew and a camera.

This always elicited one word of response:

Cynic.

It’s a word that’s stuck with me a long time, and often not by my own designation. It seems some people think that “doesn’t cry at Hallmark movies” also implies “lacks the capacity for emotion.” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I am sentimental to a fault, embrace nostalgia and everything it stands for, and harbor as many romantic notions as the next gal, if not more.

I felt for a while like people saw me walking around with my own scarlet letter emblazoned on my aura – a big fat c – and so I’ve decided to redefine the notion for myself:

cynic |ˈsinik| noun – One who is more emotionally moved by reality rather than scripted fare.

(and yes, I fully appreciate that that definition is, in itself, quite cynical.)

My PowerBook's dictionary application segues nicely into Part II.

Part II

The older I get, the more I cry. This makes me very happy. I think I may have cried once or twice in college, and have a distinct memory of tears running down my cheeks when I received a card from my sister while I was studying abroad in London (the same sister who accused me of not having a soul). I know I’ve been moved by plays and performances and felt my cheeks grow hot and a lump in my throat swell. I’ve wept as I watched movies at home on my couch – everything from Jim Sheridan’s woeful In America to Sydney Pollack’s hopeful (the way I see it) The Way We Were (for some reason, most movies with Redford and even the hint of romance can inspire my tear ducts). I considered crying at the final episode of one my favorite TV shows (decided against it, but was impressed with myself for entertaining the possibility). I sobbed when my beloved bicycle was stolen. I bawled during an emotional, depressed breakdown. I’ve had arguments with bosses that have left me sniveling in a darkened bathroom stall. My voice has been known to shake and tears have been known to well when I fight with someone I love, and those tears undoubtedly fall when it’s time for apologies and make-ups. I’ve often curled up in a ball on my bed and let my cheeks grow damp during times I’ve felt alone. My eyes even watered when I watched the lucky passengers walk on the wings of the downed plane in the Hudson. (Take that, Hallmark – reality makes me cry.) I list “introspection” as a hobby – make no mistake, I am acutely aware of my feelings.

Yet there’s one thing that has never caused a single tear to roll down my cheek:   Men.

This has recently proved problematic.

Sometimes, it feels like all of the necessary components are there for a good cry: emotional pain and despondency + the sting of rejection + loneliness + bittersweet memories + confusion, but they all = lump in my throat, at best. If only it were as easy as washing someone out of our hair! With very clean hair but a messy heart, how I’ve longed for the catharsis of crying. But, oh, the frustration when that cry refuses to come out!

Anyone who knows me can probably guess that I do associate a degree of pride with this 100% tear-free record; but it’s a pride that’s inextricably tied to my title of cynic. It feels, sometimes, like the pride of a fool, like someone who doesn’t know enough to understand that they actually should be affected. And sometimes, it feels that to cry is the only way to give a dead relationship its due respect. Not every relationship deserves such respect, of course, nor does every guy who’s ever hurt my feelings deserve my tears – but when the emotional anguish quotient (EAQ?) reaches a certain level, crying seems like the best way to rid my core of the icky, frustrated feelings that are overwhelming it. At those moments, though, tears are magically nowhere to be found.

Thinking back now to a few months ago, while I was facing a rather high EAQ with decidedly dry eyes, it feels as though I was trapped in a room filled with thick, gray smoke, and was forced to rely on a slight draft for ventilation, since I lacked the ability to open a window. My lungs are still recovering.

I’ve never felt like I’ve fought or denied my true feelings; I’ve never suppressed a cry for fear of letting someone get to me. My big bad secret is that a lot of people get to me. My emotional well is certainly not empty – it just often feels so far from flowing over. I’ve tried to piggy-back on to other cries for other reasons, to throw in a sob or two for him, that jerk, whoever he may be, but that seems to be the trick to turn off the waterworks. (I get frustrated when I can’t fool my subconscious.)

There’s little left to do but wait for the reservoir to fill, for the seas to surge. Perhaps I’ve yet to experience a lurve profound enough to warrant tears, or perhaps I need to keep working on forever lowering the rather substantial walls I’ve built around my vulnerable li’l heart.

Until then, maybe I’ll just take to chopping onions for catharsis.

 

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For a few years now, when romance manages to find its way to me through the muck and mire of my maligned stars, it always seems to happen in the late fall (with very few exceptions). Romance, of course, is a pretty broad term, and could be further expanded to denote “any happening which results in me having a story about a guy.” But we’ll go with it, and perhaps consider revising the use of the word “guy” there…

November 2010 has fallen right in line with the past few years, bringing with it something that could turn out to be a relationfling and/or relationthing and is certainly a much-needed distraction. But the planets must be aligning in amorous trajectories; take a look at the romantic opportunities that have come my way!

Exhibit #1:  “A Very Nice Man Of Love”

Yesterday, I received this email in my junk mail folder. How dare you, Spam Filter, censor this message and endeavor to deprive me of “true love Matter’s A Lot.”??

How Are you today? And How About your Health? I Hope you Are fine
Well, My Name Is Miss Lizy Weah, I am looking for A Very Nice Man Of Love,
Caring, Honest, Matured, Understanding, And Of Good Character, then
After Going to your Profile on google. I Pick Interest In you, So I Will Like
you to Write Me On My E-mail Address ( lizyweah@hotmail.com )
for Me to tell you More About My Self, And As Well Give you My Pictures
Because Am really Looking for A Serious Relationship With you.Remember
that Age,Distance,Color,language,or Religion Doesn’t Matter,but true
love Matter’s A Lot .My Address Is ( lizyweah@hotmail.com ).
Thanks
Yours New Friend
Lizy.

Oh, my. Where to start? The grammar alone has provided a few hours’ worth of entertainment for a geek like me, as capitalization issues haven’t seen this much action since e.e. cummings unknowingly created beat-twee (a new coinage by yours truly. I think it could have some staying power… thoughts?). Then, of course, there’s the content itself: the random and blatant plea for love. She Pick Interest In me, based on the falsity that public profiles as such even exist on Google. What strikes me is the fact that unlike so many other messages that wind up in the junk mail folder, Lizy here hasn’t bothered to ask for money (not outright, anyway), nor is she pushing illegal pharmaceutical knock-offs. She just wants A Serious Relationship With me. There’s a commercial on the air lately that says that 1 in 5 relationships these days begin online. Perhaps if Lizy is flexible enough (and it seems she just might be) to include “gender” to her list of things that Don’t Matter, she can become more than just Mines New Friend. (Internet protocol might dictate that I should have deleted her email address from my copying-and-pasting of her message, but, let’s face it, spam is spam and love is cruel that way.)

Exhibit #2: But what percentage of relationships start on the subway?

After a laaaaaaaaate night last night with some new old friends who seemingly have bionic livers, I boarded the subway this morning rather bleary-eyed for my weekly head-shrinking session. The fastest way to the Upper West Side office is to hop 3 different trains (fastest, of course, only if they come in rapid succession, which maybe happens half the time). Having begun on the F local, I took the A express and transferred again to the C local for the last 3 stops of the journey. I took an end seat on the old hard plastic gray bench of the C train, next to a portly black woman, probably around 40 years old, very neatly dressed in a black wool coat and a scarf that had something sparkly on it. Being hungover and significantly sleep-deprived, I noted this, but needed to concentrate my attention on my iPhone sudoku game, in which I was embarrassing myself by needing an extra 4 minutes from my usual time to complete the puzzle. Ubiquitous little white earbuds fed soothing indie pop into my head and also functioned as anti-social attention-blockers.

“Excuse me,” the woman with the sparkly scarf said.

I turned to look at her, and considered removing my MTA-issued scowl the way some people might remove a hat upon walking inside. (I think I decided against it.) Still, I made eye contact as a response to her request for attention.

“Would you like to exchange phone numbers?” she quietly and rather politely inquired.

Confused, I immediately gave her the benefit of the doubt that the music I was listening to had obstructed what she had really said. I tried to run through a few alternates of what she could have spoken, but all I could come up with was “Maybe she said, ‘Do  you want to exchange phones?’ because she sees mine and it clearly has a fun sudoku game on it.” But I wanted to exchange phones even less than I wanted to exchange phone numbers.

So I shook my head “no.”

She gave a slight nod, then said “OK.”

She turned her gaze to straight ahead, and I returned to the game I was losing to myself.

Was she, like Lizy, simply looking for Love wherever she might find it? Could she have had any other motivation in asking for my phone number? Is it that she simply wanted a new friend to play sudoku with? Is there a vacancy for puffy-eyed, scowl-wearing brunettes in her life that she’s trying to fill? Does my very aura seem so interesting and attractive that she simply needed to see me again? Was she conducting a social experiment, and I’m going to read about my response in “New York” Magazine next month? Did she like the way I smelled? (Thank you, cloak of body spray, for obscuring last night’s debauchery.) Should I have exchanged numbers just because that was the most random thing that might happen to me for a while? (Last time I embraced something because it was entirely random, I wound up on a nationally syndicated TV talkshow. No, irony of that happening to this blogger is not lost.) Should I have agreed to it because now I’ll never know what she really wanted with me? I hope I didn’t just throw away the winning lottery ticket.

Exhibit #3: A low-key 1st-and-a-half date in which, thankfully, no declarations of love were made.

I wonder if I should tell this new-guy-of-note that he is facing major competition for my affection, but the fact that he at least belongs to the gender that I am attracted to is situating as the forerunner of this race. Last night, we sat through a ridiculously bad-but-free movie that was filled with unnecessary nudity and sex scenes – plenty awkward for a 1st-and-a-half date, as you can’t help but wonder if you’ll ever know that kind of intimacy with the fellow sitting next to you, and what it might be like. Still, it was nice that we thought the same snarky and cynical thoughts about the action on screen, freely commenting on them to each other, and whispering “Me too!” throughout the film. Sarcasm is often the best riposte to sexiness.

To protect against second-rate piracy of the second-rate film, the people who organized the screening held everyone’s cell phone for the movie, which was rather totalitarian and useless, seeing as how lame the movie was (there’s nothing one could get from the two-hour movie that they couldn’t have gotten from watching the two-minute trailer). But the cell phone requisition made meeting up with my date in the crowded theater a bit of a to-do, as I sent no less than four text messages instructing him on how to find me, then revising that plan, then revising the revision, then changing the plan altogether. That was before I realized I could hand over my cell phone, get seats and then just wait for him in the lobby – we ultimately met up without a hitch.

The highlight of the movie-going experience was when someone in the audience shouted “Get her a doctor!” We thought that she had somehow managed to get really into the movie, and was shouting to the apathetic characters on screen – but it quickly became apparent that there was someone in the audience who required urgent medical attention. A theater full of would-be do-gooder New Yorkers, myself and my date included, jumped to their feet and reached into their purses and pockets… but since everyone’s cell phone had been confiscated, no one was able to call for help.

Cell phones: They’re not just for sub-par film piracy anymore.

They’re for receiving email love propositions, exchanging phone numbers with random women on the subway, and, yes, legitimate and necessary communication – such as making calls to 911.  Cell phones now seem as integral to my love life as the falling leaves and imminent winter.

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On Ch-ch-changes

13 November, 2010

“Do you believe people can change?” T asked me earlier this week.

Desperate to articulate rather than ramble, I paused and thought for a while. My instinct was to answer “yes,” but I easily thought of far too many reasons why that was wrong. But to answer “no” made me depressed.

T had been asking because some people seem to disappear from our lives only to reappear again at random intervals, and so can we  – should we – ever learn to trust them when they return?

In a moment of clarity that a steady diet of daytime/nighttime cold medicine had not afforded me for several days, my reply escaped from my lips before I could even digest the thought.

“I think that people’s priorities change, but not their personalities.”

I was instantly pleased with the breakthrough I had stumbled upon.

If it is that we act according to our priorities, then it stands to reason that as our priorities change and shift and grow, so too does our behavior and beliefs, sometimes together, some times in discord (oh, how j’adore cognitive dissonance!). But who we are at our core – beneath the other layers of self, like behavior and beliefs – that which truly comprises our being remains constant.

In thinking about this in recent days, my notion seems to be universal in a comforting way. Suddenly, the behavior of a girl who was my friend in 5th grade but refused to speak to me in 6th made more sense (my memory of the pain I felt at the time is no less acute, but my ability to dismiss this ancient event is now easier). That girl may have been a cruel bitch, but her behavior changed because her priorities – acceptance by a different group of friends – changed. Her personality, which was never all that loyal to begin with, had no problem implementing that change. In more recent events, someone with a self-destructive personality may find a new priority (say, in a short, charming brunette), and so he may sustain behavior that is actually productive and progressive for a while… but he’s ultimately unable to rewire that sense inside of him that simply needs things to be worse instead of better. (I do hope that one day, this someone can find the priority that can maintain its triumph over the personality, but I don’t think that will happen for a long while.)

Of course, I realize that this hypothesis of mine holds true for me as much as it does for people I’ve known (which confirms it’s accuracy). Every single element in my life may shift and change or just up and disappear, and that all shapes me and who and where I want to be in profound and indefinable ways. But these shifts and changes do not alter who I am, they change how I react, this time and next time. They change what I want and how I go about getting it, but they cannot change that it’s me, who I am and who I’ve been, who is wanting it.

I think this way of thinking lends itself to a certain degree of forgiveness for those who come back into our lives, but does not inherently provide an excuse. I remember the first guy I ever dated in New York – I was 23 and he was 40. He did not break my heart, but I had made a substantial emotional investment in him, which made his unexplained withdrawal from my life sting considerably. Six months after the last time I had heard from him, he called me up one evening to let me know that he could not stop thinking about me. Standing on the phone, on the rooftop of the Soho House, nearing the wise old age of 24, I probably first realized what it is about people that changes, and what it is about people that doesn’t (it’s just taken me seven years to be able to articulate that). This guy most likely believed that what he was telling me was true (“I know I didn’t treat you right, but I’ve really changed since then.”), but he had, six months prior, already given me every indication that, at  his core, he was near-sighted and only knew how to go after what he wanted at that very precise moment. His feelings for me had not magically changed so as to make me the kind of priority that would cure him of his out-of-sight-out-of-mind affliction. It was just his loneliness that night that had prompted a lie. Ultimately, I felt sorry for him. Part of me still does.

For a long time, I found the “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks” adage to be fitting to that old story, but these days, “you can’t make a dollar out of 99 cents” seems more apt. I like to believe that old dogs can pick up new tricks. But when there’s only 99¢ in your pocket, you know can’t turn it into a dollar. Your only option is change your mind so you don’t mind buying the item that was one cent less in the first place.

 

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