Sunday, July 17, 2011


By Suzanne Finnamore

By the time you realize you are for all practical purposes lame, a year has gone by, a year marked by all the stages of loss. It begins with daily discomfort (denial) moving on to daily but manageable pain (bargaining) proceeding to near total immobility (depression, rage). When you eventually consult the experts and are shown the X-ray that proves that your hip has no cartilage left to cushion the constant friction of bone against bone, you would think that would be the turning point. It is not.

While the orthopedic surgeon describes total hip replacement surgery, you look at him as though he is a bad psychic, and you feel the beginnings of hatred for him and his implacable kind. Shock has nullified the diagnosis; you begin to cast about for ways of avoiding the surgery. You know there is no avoiding it but you make the attempt, at least in your mind. You hobble away with the first inkling of an awful truth (grief); you see that the line between middle age and seniority has been crossed, not at a run but at a halting, grotesque pace.

Luckily, the pain gets worse and even light housework or a trip to the supermarket becomes mild agony. You schedule the surgery. But it's not going to happen right away; there is a process involved, and humiliation to absorb before you go under the knife. There is the overwhelming fear of getting old that is now more than a fear; it is a presence knocking at your door. Banging with the pain stick. "LET ME IN, BABY!," it cries. And of course you do. For people like me- the weak and the egotistical - pain is the only teacher. We will not listen to reason, but pain gets our attention, in the fullness of time it wins.

The fact that I resisted my lameness for so long points to pathology, neurosis, and the fear of not just becoming old, but the fear of being grouped with old people themselves. Prior to becoming lame I had dealt, I thought, rather brilliantly with my phobia with the use of hair color, a breast lift that was a nightmare of pain but which I brooked voluntarily and with real vigor, and social media.

But that was all over now.

The term for this fear is Gerontophobia; I know because I Googled it. Much like the system that my right hip relied upon for getting around, the belief system that purported the theory that if I could Google things I was still young is a broken system.
There was information on my phobia; I found the following at a site called
“For those who are aging the phobia is expressed in resisting the natural process of life. This could be expressed in multiple cosmetic surgeries and hair dyes or simply expressed in anger that life is unfair. They may seem bitter and may review their past with regret.
Ken Dychtwald identifies seven signs that seem to be true of both those who fear the elderly and the elderly who fear aging.
If young is good, then old is bad
If the young have it all, the old are losing it
If the young are creative, the old are dull
If the young are beautiful then the old are unattractive
If the young are stimulating, then the old are boring
If the young are full of passion, then the old are beyond caring
If the children are tomorrow, the old represent yesterday”

Was I bitter? Did I view my past with regret? Yes and no. I was bitter that I was in chronic pain just shy of my fiftieth birthday; I felt the warranty on my hip should have covered this well into my seventies. I felt bitter that at the half-century mark I had not become Madonna, I had become Richard The Third. Did I view my past with regret? Oh hell no. I viewed my past with nostalgia, which is nothing like regret, although they are kissing cousins. I looked back fondly at a time – just a year ago -- when I could take stairs two at a time and outrun every child (three) in my house. When I could swagger down the street in high heels, instead of clutching a banister as though my life depended on it. When the term “walker” referred, in my mind, to someone who walked.

The first person to politely ask me if I needed a walker was at a spa in California. My inner response was to contemplate swift ways to kill myself before lunch, my outer response was a calm, equally polite " No thank you." It was then that I decided that it was time to avail myself of painkillers, coupled that very afternoon with a frosty Piña Colada, a drink I'd not ordered since the eighties. In a way, I surrendered to the inevitable, which was a necessary saving grace; yet in another way I gave up. I stopped acting as though I could walk: no one had been fooled, but I'd needed time to absorb the psychic blow that lameness delivers. Temporary lameness is nothing like chronic lameness-- one can thoughtlessly limp around for days on blistered feet that danced all day in tight shoes at a wedding. One can, while pregnant, accept sciatica: people expect a hugely pregnant woman to look in pain and to lurch around. This is nothing like that.

You begin to contemplate major surgery, which is going to make things dramatically worse before they get better. The surgeon’s office calls with bright, vital details regarding a tri-level portable potty (bedpan) a wheeled walker, a raised toilet seat, a cane, and support hosiery. Pain Management is discussed: a euphemism for Torture You Can Rely On. You realize that you are going to have to rely on your husband and son to help you defecate and urinate; you're going to have to rely on them to feed you and dress you. Like someone who has suffered a massive stroke. You can't stand it but you are going to have to stand it. Well meaning friends say it's nothing, that you'll be up and around in no time, but not one of them would trade places with you for even an hour. They are silently relieved that this is not their hip replacement surgery, it's yours.

In a semifinal blow, someone tells you that Jane Fonda has had both her hips replaced. Your humiliation is now complete. You are, therefore, ready to be cut. You begin to look forward to surgery, because it's better than everything that had been leading up to the surgery. By now the muscles surrounding your diseased hip are weak and flabby, you gave gained several pounds from inactivity, and you feel like Marlon Brando, not Jane Fonda. You are ready for the surgery, now.

But first, a few more weeks of hearing your own stumpy uneven footsteps on the hardwood floors, a few more weeks of degeneration. You still can't believe this is happening to you; physical strength and independence were your bywords until just last summer. Or was it the summer before. You ignored the pain, you walked slower, you lied, you got depressed and became sedentary -- so the exact time you could walk normally is hazy. In your Vicodin miasma and your chronic pain and shame, you decided you would rather be considered lazy than crippled. (You only start taking Vicodin at the very end, after you can't get out of the car without anguish, and even then you limit yourself to one a day, because you don't want to become a drug addict on top of being lame. That seems more than you can stand. But of course, if you want more, there is always more.)

At the Pre Op appointments, you sign many disclaimers, in case you die on the table. Blood clots are a particular concern. You are asked if you have a living will. You sign away all rights while your husband, outside the hospital, strides around shouting into his cell phone at people in offices, far away. You see that the two of you live in completely separate worlds: the abled and the disabled. He will come to the hospital for the surgery; they have WiFi. This will be very helpful. Once you emerge from the surgery suite, you plan to send him home. He will be relieved but he will make sure not to show that he is relieved. And you will be relieved: You won't have to act as though everything's stupendous. For the first time in a long time, you will be able to just be broken, without the soft shoe and the small talk and the very real impression that -- exactly like childbirth, menopause, and other such procedures -- you are completely alone except for the nurses. Nurses understand, they never rush off to take a call and instead of hurriedly asking "Do you need anything?" Nurses simply bring you what you need.

You can't wait for the surgery now. If only to be around people who inhabit and understand the world of the-- temporarily or otherwise -- disabled. You are ready to enter the magician's box, not in a sequined tight dress but naked , and be sawed in half at the pelvis. It shouldn't be possible, but thankfully it is. In six months, the whole grisly act will probably be over.

You decide that having a handicap placard for your car will be lovely, just the right accessory to go with your walker and raised toilet seat. In a time that seems very long ago you thought that you couldn't bear any of this because you're still very young, very hale, but you're not. You're having a hip replaced; osteoarthritis is a disease of the elderly. No one can stop it, you can't pay someone to take care of it for you nor can you put it off any longer. You know you are lucky to arrive with health insurance and the benefit of such complicated surgery -- and a complimentary tri level porta poddy.

You are officially elderly. Welcome to total joint replacement.


Unfortunately, surgery does not fade with time, although all bromides about Feeling Better When It's Just Done quickly fade when anyone sees your scar, which looks like a long malevolent zipper, much bigger than a C Section, except a baby doesn't come out. Your bones come out.

Nor is it like riding a bike, because one does forget, and it's a blanket of forgetting; I've forgotten everything good or important I ever knew, and meanwhile I recall even the most childish or tedious slight from childhood. Also, I've lost plenty of blood and bone, I have no appetite -- yet I am gaining weight steadily. Each morning at a wee hour, I wake myself up laughing; nonetheless, a steady sense of ennui surrounds me like a thin candy shell. I can't quite believe they removed a diseased hip and femur but I know they did: there are exactly 26 steel staples closing the incision, one for each letter of the alphabet. When they're extracted on the 18th, I will have no desire to do something creative with them. I hope to forget them altogether but pain is so persuasive, so compelling and specific. The feeling of having crumbly bones sawed off and then cemented back together, I can assure you , is completely unique and will never be confused with a different event.

However, all major surgeries , in my lookout, have one thing in common: Upon emerging from anesthesia, you will need to beg to receive anything but the most cursory pain medication. Asking is not enough: they need you to beg, and then some time has to pass before anything approaching relief will occur. Meanwhile, you may struggle to understand why masochists and sadists conspire to create these daily hospital scenarios- why, in a time when so many forms of medication are at our generation's fingertips, why must these agonizing dramas be enacted with such zeal and regularity? I don;t know, but suspect it has to do with Liability and money.

Even more strange is the pride that certain tough minded individuals take in their personal pain events, how they cherish their own levels of pain tolerance while exuding a plumed sanctimonious contempt for the pain of other, lesser beings. They will often equate it with being associated with a Farm at some point in their life, but not always...sometimes it is simply their physical (read: psychic) superiority that trumps all, that enables these protean beings to have an appendectomy done Au Natural in a Chinese food delivery cab, or to walk briskly away from a bone marrow transplant with a plastic baggie of Tylenol..."just in case." (Be assured that they will have no Period of Recovery, they will simply resume covering without an interruption. And by all means go on removing those pesky wisdom teeth with a sledge hammer but as for our anesthesiologists, we'd prefer less Clark Kent and more Woody Allen.)

So: if I could give but two pieces of advice to anyone having surgery it would be 1. When asked, the pain is always a Ten. 2. It's never too early to beg.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"In The Beginning, There Was The Word: 'You Can.'"

Before going to press with my third book....Split: A Memoir of Divorce, there was a divorce. And before there was a divorce, there was the Word. The Word, for those not privy to this particular Tower of Babel moment in my little tarbox house? The word(s) was, "You Can." As in:...."You Can Write About This, Suzanne."

My ex-husband said these six empowering words as he was leaving me, along with advance suggestions about Child Custody and when I should expect a Petition To Divorce Subpoena to slide into my visage.

He had known me for ten years as a copywriter, columnist, journalist and creative writer, for Knopf and Grove/Atlantic. So he'd already considered that I might find this particular divorce a compelling subject. Some men might be fearful or even in some confusion over what would happen in future. Yet in an exuberant, free spirited moment, he selflessly extended his blessing to a memoir, a novel, or even a Press Release, should that suit my purpose. It is all worth repeating, now that Split has been lauded as an international bestseller, has been named a Best of 2008 Book by Library Journal, has had an entire chapter published in The New York Times as well as The London Times, and is available worldwide via Barnes and Noble Booksellers, - and on its Kindle.

Yes, as he sashayed out the front door of our home, he sang out: "You Can Write About This!"

It may be difficult and a long road to publication, I thought to myself...I may not be able to finish it, say, in the next few years (it turned out to be 7 years and 400 revisions before Penguin USA graciously stepped in to bring it to press), what with diapers and single parenthood and the relentless mortgage debt on this ridiculous house? But who cares, I reasoned. Let creditors cool their collective heels! Art is in motion. I Can Write About It. I resolved to do so.

As I think I make plain in Split, he has always had a great "joie de vivre", giving of himself freely and constantly. I suppose he felt that as a bonus consolation prize to his walkout, he would grant me intellectual rights to my own experience. It was extraordinarily large of him. He gave it away freely, without a care in the world: He was moving on to a better place -- in fact he was leaving that very night to the 42 celebrated hills of San Francisco -- but I could write about the space where he had been.

It was all going to be all right.

True to form, he also went farther than was strictly necessary, on the same night. He made a bold optimistic proclamation as he stood with his hands outstretched to me, as I lay on the floor in a tragically humiliating stupor of shock, grief and horror. Yes. He delved into the subject of the good fresh money to be earned, now that I could write about it. He said, twiddling his long elegant fingers in the air in front of his body...

"All you have to do is sit down to your keyboard, Suzanne, and you will make three hundred thousand dollars."

It is a mark of his exaggerated belief in my skill as a writer and his confidence in a strong economy that he was so generous with this figure. Nonetheless, the oral estimation of the exact dollar amount I would certainly earn based on this little domestic fracas seemed to make him seem taller and richer, himself. He glowed with the benevolence of a giving patron of the arts, he exhaled an intangible aura of abundance and optimism. Then he walked.

To his credit, back on that spring night in 2000, he looked excited for me. There appeared a gleam in his eye that had been previously absent. It was a Whole Community Moment. He gave me his permission to write about my own divorce, as he delivered the news of the divorce itself to me. This was adroit, he saved all manner of question and answer periods that would have come later, he blocked my writing permission into the overall information news bulletin that night -- the primary news being the fact that he was leaving our family.

Yes I cried, yes I railed, but to no avail. It was not important, as I had failed miserably in my job as a wife to him, he had found a better candidate and he was history, good people. Our 15-month year old son and I were on our own, although he did pay the amount of court ordered child support, delivered on time, along with affectionate and frequent visitation. As for his forecast amount of $300K for the memoir of our divorce, it proved to be far less than that. I forgive him, though. How could he have known what a drastic turn our national economy would take, and how gas prices would go straight through the very roof of Heaven? How did he know there would be the unthinkable holocaust of 9/11 and then on the heels of that cataclysm, a complete travesty of a war and a national Recession to contend with? He is only human. He didn't know.

None of us knew anything. That's why writing - memoirs in particular -- became so important. And memoirs poured from the orifices of America.

We draw a curtain upon this time. We hope for better times.

And speaking of hope? A scant four days after my ex husband left, I had an emotional seizure. It was a dark, lonely weekend morning and I was unable to breast-feed and I became very sad. Not only could I not retain a husband or make the mortgage payment alone without plunging into an irretrievable abyss of debt? I could not express enough milk to wet a stamp. Sobbing, I gave my son a bottle of Enfamil. I picked up my telephone and I called Information and traced down the phone number of a favorite writer who lives in my area, Anne Lamott. After at least ten rings, she answered her phone, although we were mere acquaintances. And when I told her of how my husband had left, but! But that he'd said I could write about my divorce, she said - and I'll never forget the grace of the moment --" YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT YOU CAN."

Ms Annie Lamott was on her way to church, it was a Sunday, and she talked to me the whole way. She is a marvelous writer and has not suffered divorce, to her ultimate credit as a human being. I feel instinctively that the great ones manage to avoid it, along with marriage as well. We need look no farther than dogs, horses, lions, lambs, Katherine Hepburn and Jesus as prime, unassailable examples.

Finally i would posit that if we don't learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

Cut the cake.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Suzanne Finnamore, the best-selling author of Otherwise Engaged and Split: A Memoir of Divorce has found love again — online! Here, we speak with her about the search for love, writing and life with a new fiancé.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

Charming, brilliant and highly attractive men without a scrap of integrity need not apply; I am looking for a sincere and genuinely available man...a grown man. I am a grown woman. Think how well these two things go together. This, after all, is why cats don’t date dogs. They don’t match, they never will. It’s the way nature intended; I am just following the higher order of things. -- From author Suzanne Finnamore’s (now-extinct) online dating profile

Captivated readers have loyally followed Suzanne Finnamore’s most intimate moments since the publication of Otherwise Engaged, her hilarious novel about a nervous bride’s crazy trip to the altar. And when Suzanne’s marriage
dissolved, readers followed her romantic adventures once more — this time, with the veil of fiction lifted — through the pages of Split: A Memoir of Divorce. Here, Suzanne is giving Happen magazine the straight scoop on how she met her fiancé (hint: online, through!) and how her past experiences with love, marriage, divorce, and planning for her second wedding have made her a wiser romantic.

Did you do much dating after your divorce? Did you take a break or jump right in? How’d it go out there? Was it scary?

I took a break for five years as I raised my son and wrote Split. Then one Sunday my single-mom friend, Cora, announced she had just been on an Italian cuisine bay cruise the night before, whereas I had watched my eleven-thousandth episode of Entertainment Tonight. “Try,” she advised. We walked right over to my computer together and signed me up. I immediately found several men to fall in love with and who seemed to love me. Now I realize that, looking back, it was like when you think the moon is following you, but it’s not — rather, it’s following everyone and it’s following no one; it’s a giant planet and is oblivious to fantasy or desire. You can even land on the moon, but that’s unlikely, isn’t it? But in a way, I did. It only took four years to take “…that trip to the moon on gossamer wings” and meet my fiancé.

I became something of an expert at Internet dating — which can be a gold mine if done properly. But in the beginning, these men were all wrong… for me. They were dead right for someone else; i.e., one had just lost 100 pounds, and that scared the heck out of me. It was too close to shape-shifting, I suppose. One laughed at everything I said — literally. I’d say “hello” and he’d laugh. I’d say, “There’s a woodpecker outside my window” and he’d laugh. Then I said, “Can you call me later; I’m busy writing,” which was an obvious excuse to get off the phone, and he laughed. I guess the short answer is: I had tons of flings and a few boyfriends after my husband and I split. It was scarier for them, I suspect. Internet dating got me back into the pool of life. I swam and was better off for having done it.

Tell us about meeting your fiancé. How did you meet? Did you know right away that he was special — or even The One?

What’s so strange is that I almost didn’t meet him. Both of us had kept our profiles hidden for months. I’d let my subscription lapse. Then I got an email that said in the subject line, “30 Days of for Only $20.” A little voice within said, “Do it.” Two days later, I met the love of my life — a ferociously smart man with the body of a Rodin. suggested I use a new feature: “The Daily 5 ...5 Matches We Chose Just For You!” It’s a brilliant feature, because you just check one box: “Interested,” “Not Interested,” or “Maybe.” I looked at Tom and thought, hot picture. I read his basic statistics: 49, divorced, Chapel Hill, NC, two kids. And then, without thinking, I checked the “Interested” box. And that was just it: the ultimate in one-click shopping for my second husband — “add to cart!” (I guess the moral of my story is this: with online dating, don’t give up; follow your own small voice inside and trust your gut.) I clicked the “Interested” button, my life changed forever.

I have to give some credit to pheromones and superb timing; also, our values and personalities are very, very similar. Of course, being only human, Tom and I had both been dastardly fiendish in our profiles: I lied about my age and he lied about something else pretty big. Once we’d roped each other into our digital webs of inequity, we told each other the truth. Today, we are still telling the truth. You can only meet someone online; the rest of the process of dating should be — and, marvelously, usually is — completely live and analog in nature. Within a month, Tom made the ridiculous proposition of marriage and I accepted.

Now, I salute the power of, a service without which I believe I can say with absolute certainty I would not have met my fiancé (whose large, shiny shoes I would willingly drink champagne from).

Is Tom different from your ex-husband in ways that are important to you because of your experience with your first marriage ending in divorce?

Well, my ex is a wonderful man, but he has never been a slave to monogamy. Conversely, Tom has a history of fidelity; we spoke candidly on the phone for two hours, after which I expressly cut him off until we met for a mildly expensive and highly civilized, protracted lunch. Brisk coffee dates, in my opinion, are overrated when it comes to romance. And from the first date, Tom has been a completely open book. He’s patient to the extreme versus being moody and fiery.

My first husband was dark and swarthy; Tom is blond and fair-skinned. My ex had a black thumb. As I type this, Tom is busy landscaping our yard, liberating the gardenia bush from the hyacinth and cutting the crepe myrtle tree back and killing the poison ivy with some spray, all while he holds a conference call to Silicon Valley on his Bluetooth. He also mops floors… without my asking him to do it. And no, they don’t have any more at home like him.

What do you think you learned from your first marriage and its demise that have helped you in this relationship?

I have learned that not just sexual fidelity, but also fiscal fidelity is possible: Tom and I opened a joint checking account yesterday. It was poignant for me, almost sensational. I can book a solo passage to Paris, run rampant through Pottery Barn — but Tom trusts that I won’t. I find this kind of union to be on par with a bone marrow transplant; my ex and I never had joint accounts. Long before the affair that ended my first marriage, there was no essential, foundational trust; I see that now. I learned that I could let a man just be himself, because there is no controlling someone — and I don’t want to be controlled, either.

Are you approaching the planning of this wedding any differently than you did the first time?

Our respective families want us to have a proper wedding — a wedding that, we feel, would shave a full decade off our lives. So we’re having a stealth wedding, then a brief honeymoon in Charleston followed by our apologies all around.

How are your expectations for this marriage different than they were 10 years ago, with your first marriage?

I honestly never expected to re-marry. (I also thought I was done filling sippy cups and weeping at school plays… it just goes to show how wrong you can be.) And I know what marriage is, now. I know it can, frankly, wreck a lot of things. We won’t be new anymore. But honestly, it’s like we are already married. We’ve been living together since December of 2009. We’re a blended family; we have his two kids (ages two and eight) every weekend, plus Mondays. My son, Pablo, and Tom are so good together; he is the day-to-day father figure and parent that my ex can’t be, because he hasn’t lived in the same state since forever ago. My ex is my son’s father, and they have a great bond — and to me, he’s like a really old friend whom I happen to have a son with.

Marriage and children essentially strip off the veneer, all the protective layers people hide behind; it can be petrifying. But far worse is imagining what my life would be like had I not met Tom. In some slim but important ways, emotionally, I was amongst the walking dead. Even though I had a good time with friends and with dating, and although I adored my son, I don’t know how I managed before Tom. I think I had just flown on automatic pilot for the whole past decade. Leaving California and every single person and place I knew behind was hard. Four months later, I walked into Rue Cler in downtown Durham, North Carolina and met Tom. And I thought, “Dear God, is this it? Have I really found someone who can love me? Really love me?” I was worried. But my friend, Augusten Burroughs (who happens to be a much, much better memoirist than I), said: “Focus on how he makes you feel. The rest is bullshit from a smaller era.” And he was right. I believe the trick is to take the egregious mistakes you made during your first marriage and try not to repeat them. With Tom, I notice how tender and careful we both are with each other. It may be simply a matter of paying attention.

What are you up to now?

These days I’m writing a novel about love, the second time around. The first sentence, if it gets beyond the fragile opening stage of all books (and romances), may read like this: “I was still paying for my past when my future burst into flower on a tree I thought past fecundity, whose branches held the seed of a small miracle.”

And with that, we’ll leave you with the last stanza of a poem Suzanne wrote for her fiancé:

The decades have not brought me here.
The way was unmarked. No amount of signs
would guide me to this place — well, why not just say it
— to you. I am all in. You are what I’ve come for.

Suzanne Finnamore is the author of the best-selling books, Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles (a Washington Post Book of the Year in 2002), and Split: A Memoir of Divorce. A novelist and journalist, Finnamore is a frequent contributor for publications such as O, Marie Claire, Redbook, Glamour and online at Her novels have been translated into 12 languages. Visit Suzanne at

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"Crush Me" - soon to be in 'Crush: An Anthology of Love's Puppy

In its most literal interpretation, to crush (squash/ squeeze/ mash/ pound / devastate) - is to be forced into a compressed position, a position of submission to a greater force. It its context as a romantic state, the literal meaning of crush has not, to my mind, been sufficiently remarked upon. I intend to clarify this in as explicit a manner as I can manage, hopefully without becoming impossibly strident, circumspect, diffident or bitter. However, I make no promises. If you are a romantic and sentimental sort of person expecting gossamer prose that makes you well up with tears and dash off to scribe meaningful and warm phrases in your journal, I suggest you cease reading this and move on to the fictional works of Danielle Steel, Nicolas Sparks or Robert James Waller.

If your quest is for unfettered sentiment, in particular, Robert James Waller pours rapt, boundless energy into all that capers and wafts down a rose petal path; he will not cause you a moment’s doubt in the Heart’s Desire and Soulmate aisle, replete with claw foot bathtubs and handwritten notes pinned on quaint, covered bridges in the slanting evening sun. In exchange for an exploration of the romantic crush, Waller will give you that marvelous oxymoron: a Good Cry; I freely admit he gave one to me. Indeed, The Bridges of Madison County is highly recommended for anyone who lusts for high-concept pastoral romance, especially Dear Readers pining for escape...those mature bipeds hopelessly laden with responsibilities, meetings, taxes, and a ballast of children weighing down their beautiful, pea-green boat.

The Bridges of Madison County was a runaway bestseller, instantly made into a blockbuster film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood (Although no one I knew claimed to have read a single page or seen the movie; what notorious liars people are.) Watch the movie, it’s impossibly wrenching and poignant, even though one suspects that in the modern world, our barefoot curvaceous heroine, Francesca the Farm Wife With Italian Sex Appeal, would have paired off with her paramour, Robert Kincaid the Dashing Photographer/Cowboy With An Excellent Position At National Geographic. Francesca would have, one intuits, procured a nice sensible divorce, and probably kept a few acres of the farm in the bargain. Trips to Venice and the Uffizi would have ensued, and her children would have visited the happy couple at their villa in Tuscany. (Prices were still modest, then.) Everyone would have worked things out for the sake of the children and Francesca’s Farmer Man husband would have understood, grateful for the time he had managed to have with Francesca, who was wistful to the point of suicide for most of their marriage. Farmer Man would have remarried a local girl and in time the humiliation would have been borne. You know it would have.

Yet the film, set in 1962, holds the Family Value line, rejecting the idea that Robert Kincaid and Francesca’s extreme crush, their four-day love affair, could see them safely through the rest of their lives; it shuns the sudden and potent crush of impromptu love as a serious contender. During the climactic Great Sacrifice scene when Francesca almost but not quite flings open the passenger’s side door of her husbands’ pickup truck to run toward her lover, I myself nearly collapsed a lung weeping. The red light that Francesca and Farmer Man are stopped at, just behind Eastwood’s truck, goes on being red for what seems like a full eternity while Francesca kneads, rubs and grapples the door handle; she almost pulls it out of the goddamned car door. (Eastwood, who is standing in the rain looking bereft as a clubbed baby seal, straddles a very fine line between masterfully tender and puerile.) But it is 1962, and so I notice Francesca does not get out of her warm, dry vehicle. I notice she understands that what she and the flinty-eyed, roving shutterbug have is not a serious love, but a rather serious that might crush her and her entire family if she gets out of that rickety ass truck – it seems she suspects that if she plays it through, her crush on photographer Robert Kincaid might flourish, throw out seed and then inadvertently choke her bucolic life’s well tended, deeply rooted garden.

As if to confirm its lack of weightiness, the word crush in a romantic sense is not recognized in traditional dictionaries -- in their expert opinion it is an ethereal thing and cannot be pinned down to a fact or definition. So I turned to the Urban Dictionary, which traffics heavily in cultural catch phrases and ineffable matter of all kinds.

In the Urban Dictionary, the second definition of crush is “A painful experience, very common among middle schoolers (and high schooler's and even adults to a lesser degree) that involves being obsessed with a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if u (sic) prefer), being attracted to them physically (most common), or emotionally- also called 'puppy love'.”

At the ripe age of eight, had I known what crush was when it entered my bloodstream – and blood it was, make no mistake – I might have opted for a more supine position in the general scheme of things. Instead I ran to embrace it like a trusted ally. I thought, "Well, this is a good feeling, what a glory, what a marvelous sensation, tingling and engulfing body and mind. I intend to please the object of my crush as hard and as convincingly as I can, even if it means giving up a few afternoons of going to the library, jettisoning girl friends, disobeying my parents and teachers, keeping dangerous secrets, or giving up my own soul. And if I am very, very lucky, I will be crushed back. Oh, yes, what a glory, what a marvelous sensation, was traversing my body to the ends of my hair. My toes are involved, my breast is alight, and I have no thought for anything except this very moment, and perhaps the one after.

To be in the moment may very well be the best thing the average crush has to recommend for it. Let us not confuse it with love. It doesn’t want love’s duties, its complexities. It is the soft drink of emotions.

To confirm my point, I see where in its fourth definition, the Urban Dictionary defines crush as: "A kick-ass bottled soda pop made in orange, grape, and strawberry flavors. Comes in six-packs. Example: I drank nine bottles of Crush today.

Soft, perhaps, but with undeniable merits. Certainly it has pleasure going for it, and some importance; a cold soft drink can be delicious and even life saving, if one is in the desert without the benefit of a canteen.

Then again, there are nefarious, darker meanings to the act of a crush-- see definition six in the Urban Dictionary: Verb. The process by which people are killed when thrown beneath a steamroller or placed in between two solid surfaces with force being applied toward them that the body cannot withstand.
Sumbuddy: Hey, hao es your familie?
Guy: They got crushed by a bus and died.
Sumbuddy: Daz so sad...wanna get iscreem

Historically there is the Witch Crush: The medieval process of laying one flagstone upon another and another, until the alleged sorceress’ body held beneath the stones is unable to draw breath, and her bones broken like so much peanut brittle -- often performed to the recitation of religious passages, and with many capering, excited onlookers – with the end result of pressing alleged witches into the ground until they are dead. This reinforces my feeling that crushes and crushing may not be the harmless, gay concepts they parade as.

Much later -- sometime around the nineteen nineties, crush became a verb; in the same way many nouns that had no business being animated became verbs. "Network” became a verb, and this was vastly troubling. And crush became a verb, the better to toss from here to there. Grown people took on the term…and in so doing, it was ruined for children and teenagers, in the same way that Facebook was ruined for them when their parents took to it. (A complete travesty of justice but not an unprecedented one…the uninspired have always stolen with great entitlement and treachery from the inspired. Whites stole jazz from blacks, as they did rock and roll, urban fashion, modern dance and everything they could get their pasty mitts on. "Inner City Minority Crimes” -- when juxtaposed with multitudinous centuries of slavery, lynching, Native American genocide, the ruthless and bloody snatching of California and much of the Southwest from Mexico, and the stealing of vast and sweeping cultural and intellectual property from non-Caucasians into the hands and pockets of Caucasians -- is a drop in a vast ocean, as crime goes.)

And yes I do stray from the original point of this essay; I digress in the most widespread and egregious fashion from the topic of the simple crush. Perhaps I dance and flit around the subject because I am overwhelmed by the (greedy, fleeting and petulant) conviction that all crushes and giddy emotions have passed me by, like an express train headed for a fine metropolitan center, while I – awash in children, stepchildren and the quotidian of being past twelve, in a time when our economy and our country is anything but buoyant and youthful - stand at the doorway of my home holding a frying pan and a spatula with which to pry the daily egg.

Disclaimer: Let me explain my outlook on the crush, in the present moment. This week in my shared household with my fiancé, Tom, 49, we are horribly short on time and adequate childcare or slow dancing; our ratio of children to adults is 16,000 to one. And so the eggs and cooking utensils and laundry loads of my life as an engaged divorced mother have become overwhelming, the relentless homework and crying toddlers and Mac and Cheese encrusted meals of my life have taken seniority over the niceties of bubbling feelings; therefore I am hard pressed to feel the proper ebullient outlook toward crushes and gay, insouciant states of being…the right tone has not been set. I admit this.

But let the record state that despite all this, I absolutely do want to crush on a regular basis, to - like Francesca and Robert Kincaid - have my hair washed by Tom and make love for hours at a time while a big band station plays on an old radio and brandy is drunk from thin snifters around a Formica table, all children tucked away with a responsible farmer at a 4-H meeting in Kansas. I want to continuously crush. Although, it must be noted, Tom and my sharing a massive crush and parlaying it into love and commitment and a blended family is absolutely what led me to this very position in the doorway, with the spatula and the frying pan. I don’t see how it could have been avoided, as we both came into relationship with past crushes and so forth under our belts, we entered this undertaking as adults with children, some of them small.

Why don’t I just say it: Crushes lead to love lead to marriage lead to children, which lead to the grave. Yes. Here, I – quite waspish, wracked with fatigue, and without the proper perspective - state this without the frill of political correctness or the maternal yoke of everlasting gratitude, grace and feminine forbearance around my neck.

In my defense, I look to self-honesty and truth telling as a pressure release valve, so that I can within this venue consider the topic of the sweet, deep, uncomplicated crush without being bitter and preemptive. In fact, I would posit that this essay’s (rather horrifying, I admit) honest and confessional tone is a kind of inner crush…a crush on myself, on my past and perhaps the childfree future, a crush on my own freedom. The time when I was a girl and could let loose the infatuation dogs, the time I could, with no thought of consequence or Right or Wrongdoing, indulge a flood of sensual feeling, release the emotion love dogs willy nilly, could walk home at a leisurely pace, at age eight, with thoughts of Jimmy Duke and his way of riding his stingray bike with real abandon.

Now I will tell about my first crush, which I believe was the original objective.

Jimmy Duke was my first crush. I meant to say this in the beginning, here, but other things took over. (In my life as a grown woman with children, and in the year 2010, other things take over with a relentless and firm hand. This is why my first crush is so slippery to describe and buckle down to.)
But here goes: On the school yard of Allendale elementary in Oakland, California, on a short fifty yard asphalt race course painted with five white lanes, abandoned after school and unmonitored by adults or men with starting guns or girls holding up gaily colored flags or sportscasters with strident tones, Jimmy Duke and I raced, just the two of us, while Roy Campbell looked on in mild interest on his Schwinn bike with the playing cards stuck in the spokes. Jimmy Duke won, although I tried my fierce best and almost lost a shoe. He won and he said nothing, because for Jimmy Duke, winning was a given. (This says it all, crush-wise. In my time, most women – even girls not on the brink of becoming women – want men who win and say nothing. We do not want to triumph over men in any physical way, it is not sexy and it goes against the biological imperatives which keep human beings from being wiped off the earth by insects and crabgrass.)

Jimmy Duke had a crooked smile, the flaw being the very entry point of the crush knife. Historically, I have always spent my crushes on males with elemental good looks but an array of interesting flaws that distinguish them from the other, more perfect and some would say pretty boys, the plethora of narcissistic man child that grow thick on the ground in California - especially San Francisco, Marin County, San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.

Jimmy’s hair was sandy and straight, with body. A boy with body in his straight hair is not to be trifled with; he has an advantage over the stingy haired boys who are constantly peering out from a curtain of hair. Curtains of hair are a plus for girls but for boys, a curtain of hair is a liability. It suggests femininity and perhaps a lack of stiffness, a bit less confidence, which may in fact lead to impotence in his later years. (No one wants to admit it, but a mostly reliable and stiff penis is sometimes all that stands between a successful union and a lackluster and grim union of potentially obese individuals. Without sex, heterosexual men and women would never have anything to do with one another beyond procreation, the impromptu rearrangement of furniture and – well, I can’t think of another activity they might share willingly and with benefit to anyone.)

Roy Campbell had a Moe Howard hairstyle and Roy Campbell hung around Jimmy Duke, looking to scoop up his leftover girls. This worked well until Roy Campbell developed acute acne and was summarily shunned by girls of all ages. Later, he developed a fondness for controlled substances. So that’s it. My first crush.

My own fiancé, Tom’s, hair sticks straight up and don’t I know it. It stands at attention and is ready for what happens next. It never falls into his eyes or threatens to conceal or flop on his face in ways that could only mean a weakness in character. Tom is unquestionably the biggest crush of my life, arriving - to my chagrin - after I had already married and divorced and given up on anything like crushes, secretly feeling that love, perhaps, was “an affliction curable by marriage” to crib from Ambrose Bierce.

So it is lovely that the Urban Dictionary nails and also validates my at-first-sight crush on Tom, in its Definition number three:

1. The act of falling hard for someone even though it isn't love yet
2. A precursor to love
3. An amazing thing that gives you feelings of nerves and excitement whenever you see them

Since the day we met, I seem to have been stripped of all knowledge save emotional and carnal knowledge. (Surely the way this essay meanders is proof positive of this theory) In my “nerves and excitement”, I am very close to being a mildly retarded adult, happy almost 100 percent of the time. The difference is that I am happy approximately 80 percent of the time; the rest of the time I am fearful and anxious that my happiness will be snatched from me. Other differences include the fact that mildly retarded, even some Down Syndrome, adults are genetically plump and puffy all round. Conversely, I am not plump, but, in the right light and clothing, could actually pass for willowy and smooth, something that surely cannot last but which this great and perplexing love has brought out. (Tom, being under the influence of crush, thinks this is my natural state.) While it’s all happening nicely and in a lovely manner now, I fear I will eventually be hard pressed to keep the pace. I mistrust this makeover from crushing new love, and feel it is only a matter of time before my somewhat frowsy self reappears and I am catapulted from my crush afterglow, back to a thickened waist and uneven skin tones. But Tom is very close to being an evolved and perfect mate for me. This is why I have agreed to marry him, despite my suspicion that all crushes are doomed, and that marriage is a conspiracy from Tiffany’s, the Diamond Industry, and Christian Fundamentalists. Whenever I try to sabotage our union, or wax jaded and pessimistic about our love, Tom deftly and summarily quashes my dissent in firm and absolute terms. He will not brook dissent in the ranks; like many fine and good German Americans he has his fascistic, impeccable standards and they will not be chipped at. He is the most Teutonic man I have ever known, unassailable and zealous in his ability to work, to be perennially practical and patient, and take me into hand when I run amuck and begin to be crazy, which is my default setting. Having fallen in the greatest and most solid love of my life, I am fully and with emphasis carried away from my shabby notion of independence and intellectual distinction.

Tom, while doing his fulltime job impeccably and caring for his children and my own, is also taking on infatuation side effects; he is exhibiting mildly retarded or brain damaged characteristics. For example, yesterday he ran full force into a seven foot metal pole in his backyard, in broad daylight and while under the influence of this deceptively innocuous thing, the crush. He is being crushed under the wheels of infatuation that became infected with Love and is, at this very moment, headed toward the gully of Marriage, where much will be lost but much will be gained. We will be wed. What will become of us? Whatever happens, the ubiquitous crush was the genesis of – to quote from Zorba the Greek – The Full Catastrophe. Let us lobby for it to have its own place in Webster’s, if not a sacred nook in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Deep In The Amazon - One Writer's Pathology

Deep In The Amazon

By Suzanne Finnamore

This is what happened. I wrote a book, submitted it to several publishers, and was sprayed with a buckshot of rejection. I wrote another book, found a New York agent and a New York publisher. Within a week I had sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox, quit my job, and settled into what felt like an extended dream world, one in which I was able to go to sleep and wake up without the scenery changing. This is it, I thought, my beginning of a writer’s life. I bought a new car and each time I went outside I expected to find it gone, with a note that read Terrible Mistake Now Rectified.

Several weeks before my actual publication date, a friend informs me that my book is listed on Already? I said, the faintest suggestion of coy surprise in my voice. I attempt to sound casual but inside I am hula dancing naked with Viggo Mortensen and he is saying, "Baby, I didn’t know you were a writer!"

After a period of insensate glee at my book simply being for sale on the Internet, the first Amazon customer review is posted. Five stars, from my mother, cleverly disguised as A Reader. “Suzanne Finnamore is the spokeswoman for the nineties.” A couple more people write reviews, either four or five stars. In a quasar of accolade, my Amazon sales rank number soars from 1,439,003 to 707. I begin thinking about a new house, something with an extra bathroom and a pool. Perhaps an Olympic-sized pool for the staff to enjoy while I am in Aix choosing a villa.

Then it happens. My first bad Amazon customer review. It floats into view on my laptop computer. As in tornadoes, there is no warning. One star. A Reader From DC wishes I would catapult myself from a tall building. Then I should be chopped into tiny pieces, like a vampire. Pieces, which are then mailed separately to different continents, so that I won’t reconstitute myself and start looking for a pencil.

I cry for an hour: Why me? Why?

I then call ten friends and insist they write Amazon reviews. Five stars, I mumble, I need five.

But I haven’t read it yet, one friend says. It doesn’t matter, I say. He laughs, not realizing I am dead serious.

Eventually the good friend reviews are posted, knocking mister one star off the top. Then a Reader From New York writes an even worse review -- for some reason giving me two stars. He loathes my writing, my characters, my plot and my publisher; it is the grand slam of reviews. What would merit one star to this person, I muse. A grease trap?

More friends (and acquaintances who have been upgraded to friends) are encouraged to write five star reviews. Oddly, I even get a few great reviews from strangers. I write to thank them but also to ferret them out: I secretly feel they must be my mother, who has become dangerously proficient on her computer. I also believe that the bad reviews are from my enemies. I will never be able to prove it, of course.

Later, a blinding flash of lucidity reveals that the bad reviews are in fact from friends, jealous alcoholic friends who write bad reviews on Amazon and then black out. I log on every hour, to monitor my triumph/debacle. It is all I can do to keep myself from setting the alarm for 3 AM so I can properly stay abreast. As part of my system, I regularly cross reference numbers with other books on that I feel are like mine.

After three weeks of this my Knopf editor forbids me to log onto I agree, sensing this is what’s best; the healthy response to what has perhaps become a fixation. I haven’t put on a bra since this whole thing started. I have however lost nine pounds. Soon breasts won’t be an issue.

I tell everyone I am not going to check any more. Then I check. 659. I am in the sixes. So I feel good, am able to have coffee and write and even leave the house for milk. When I return, I log on but I don’t check my own sales rank. In an inspired flurry, I try to spread the good sales rank number karma around. I start looking up books I admire and writing five star reviews. It is then that I realize the gross inequity of the system.

Eudora Welty has received two stars for The Ponder Heart. I write a review for her. Since there is only the one other review, I am able to boost her average from two to four stars. One person can make a difference. I’m sure she’s appreciative. I also write a five star review for Anne Lamott, whose new book I haven’t read yet but have ordered from Amazon (40% off) and will certainly enjoy.

At five till midnight I log on. (Amazon updates not just every day but every hour, a fact that a writer friend has been kind enough to point out.) 666. This is significant; I file it away, under Coincidences That Involve Satan. Exactly fifty-eight minutes later as I am landing with a sad frenzied thud on my book site, I notice that it says Linda Hamilton is the co author if my book, instead of the reader of my audio cassette version. This does not worry me, but the fact that I am 1311 does. It makes me feel homely. I look in the bathroom mirror. Uh huh. Definitely in the thirteens.

Additionally, a Reader From Albuquerque suggests that the best use for my book would be as a doorstop. I am finally drifting off when I just check one more time, wondering whether my numbers rise at night. #8,810. The sales rank of a high school yearbook.

It’s not checking my Amazon sales rank and customer reviews, it’s checking to see if I am licit. The mentally intact need not apply. I do not write any more, of course. That would take me away from my real work, which is checking my sales rank on

I consider calling Anne Lamott and offering to be her Amazon eyes for her new book, Plan B. I could give her a status report at the end of the day (5:57 PM: Anne 29, me 922. 6:59 PM: Anne 41, me 2,004.) I don’t call her, though. I already phoned her for reassurance after the savage Kirkus review came out, and I have only two wishes left with the magic flying monkey cap. If you don’t get this monkey cap reference, then you have never read:

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
Amazon Sales Rank: 35,623

Five stars from
Anisha Zaveri ( from Bombay,India. , November 14, 1998


Three stars from
A reader from Bountiful, UT , October 21, 1998
A Classic Satire on the Populist Party
Most people look at L. Frank Baum's classic novel as a simple children's story, but it has a deeper significance. Baum lived in the Great Plains of the American West during the Populist uprising of the 1890s, and the characters and events of the Wizard of Oz are based upon what he observed. For example, Dorothy represents the innocent Midwesterner who must contend with the wild nature of the West (the Wicked Witch of the West) and the deceptive idea that all solutions can be found with money (following the path of gold, or the Yellow Brick Road). The Scarecrow represents American farmers, the Tin Woodsman represents American workers (his transformation from human to tin man represents industrial accidents), and the Cowardly Lion represents Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (a great orator but a pacifist, hence the cowardly lion). Following the path of gold leads Dorothy and her companions to the Emerald City, which represents Washington, DC, and the corrupt influence that money has on the city. The Wizard is the President of the U.S.--a weak and powerless humbug who nevertheless manages to convince the innocent Dorothy that it is he and not the moneyed special interests that control the land. Anyway, there is much more, but in the end Dorothy conquers nature (the Witch of the West), and with the help of the Silver Slippers (the Populist Party's Free Silver issue), finally finds her way home to truth and happiness. A wonderful book when read in the proper context.

Phew. I am finally able to have a context, something I feel I have previously been lacking by only looking up my own book. I look up a few more, just to get a sense of where I stand.

Angle of Repose The Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Wallace Stegner
Amazon Sales rank: 3,331

One star from
A reader from Minnesota, April 4, 1999
Waste of 600 pages
I was required to read this book for school. It was probably the slowest book I have ever read. Don't waste your time. The only reason I gave it one star was that I don't have the option of giving it less.

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
Amazon Sales rank: 73,122

One star from: from Chicago, IL, January 28, 1999
Thumbs Down!
I agree with the reader for New York City. This Book was a total waste of time and I dreaded every turn of the page.

One star from:
A reader from New York City, September 15, 1997
Uggh!!! Updike can't write worth spit! This is just pure junk. Not only is it dull, but it's about nobodies. A total waste!

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Amazon Sales rank: 3,585

A reader from New York City, September 17, 1997
Very bad.
“Bad reading; the descriptions are okay, but the characters stink. The heroin doesn't seem lovable and great, she's crazy and stupid. It's bad. The drawing on the cover is as good as it gets.”

A reader, July 2, 1997
Hemingway rode on the coat tails of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
None of Hemingway's work including A Farewell To Arms should be touted as "Classic". Hemingway caught a ride on the coat tails of F. Scott Fitzgerald and without him as a predecessor Hemingway's body of work would have died the timely death it deserved. A Farewell To Arms is yet another example of Hemingway's inability to forward narrative in an interesting manner or to develop characters that anybody could care a whit about.

A closer look confirms that Hemingway’s not doing well on his Amazon Customer Review Average. This is doubtless because he is dead, and can’t get people to write reviews for him. Mental email: Stay alive.

I log onto my site again. 1,590. Re-read my Kirkus review. They’ve placed it right up front so strangers can read it without breaking a sweat in the magazine aisle. Realize suddenly that the reviewer didn’t compare me to Nora Ephron, as my editor had said -- he compared me to Erma Bombeck. In abject horror, I call my friend Augusten Burroughs and read it to him, and as I hear the words spoken out loud, I laugh for about a minute. It feels like surfacing for air. Kirkus doesn’t matter, according to Augusten. “Who matters?” I say. “I don’t know”, he admits. “ The New York Times Book Review, I guess.”

I wonder what my therapist is doing right now. I call him to see. I leave a message saying that I am having some “popularity issues.” Would it be a conflict of interest to ask him to write an Amazon review, I wonder as I hit the Search key.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
Sales rank 2,130 (Unabridged hardcover

A reader from USA, February 24, 1999
Shakespeare is highly overated
Not to deny Shakespeare’s incredible talent, but he is certainly overcredited in the creativity area. if you're looking for a true, unique and original read, i reccomend any famous ancient greek playwrite, such as aristophanes, euripides or sophacles. you'll find thier style a little less decorative, and little more simple, but still very similar (afterall, shakespeare did have the works of these men to study and emulate.

A reader from Japan, July 5, 1998
Shoddy Binding

I admire the brevity of the Japanese reviewer. There is simply no room in Japan for the verbose. I go to the front menu of the Amazon site to glean the overall view. In Amazon’s Hot 100, Number one is Body For Life, by Bill Phillips -- a man with biceps the size of Virginia hams. Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar To Trim Fat is number 11

Apparently I have made a grave error in writing a novel. Mental Email: Stop trying to write fiction. I’m sure the Reader From DC would applaud this decision, and the Reader From NY would crack champagne. Meanwhile I write emails to my friends and sign off with my Amazon sales rank number of the moment.

“Hope your liver tumor isn’t malignant. I’m sure it’s not. 704.”

I log on at 5:45 and again at 6:01. In less than twenty minutes my sales rank went from 636 to 4501. 4501. I mentally affix a cleft palate to my lip. Dinner is out of the question now. I will be sucking horse tranquilizers.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that getting published isn’t exactly the way I pictured it. Yet there is still time to make it right. There is still time to burst into Amazon’s Hot 100. If not, I will marinate in shame and defeat, along with Stegner and Welty. And John Updike. Let’s not forget that popsickle stand loser.

While on her book tour in Chicago, Suzanne Finnamore’s Otherwise Engaged hit Amazon’s Hot 100, going as high as 44. She is still crazy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

poem for Tom 12.6.09

On Discovering My Tattoo Means Not Love, But The Act of Trusting

I wanted to be sure to find you
Though I lost my way it seemed
There would be you, a test, an open door
A chasm to jump over. Just beyond

The doorjamb I caught a slice
Of what I thought was you
Or something close enough
To pass for love, devotion. I thought children

Would be enough to pass for you.
But I watch my son fan away from me,
His creamy bones spread out to
His own life. Even now he is

On his way to his own portal, his own
Way of passing through the air, he will
See someone; I hope she will meet
Him at the place where hinges touch. I hope

For him a round window that leads to
Sea and not to ground, where we must
Bury what is gone. I want for him what
I had never known, the kind of entrance

Into the curved room without doors, where
No one leaves, yet none are moribund
And the world circular. Me, I’ve held the edge. I am
Known for it. I have that slim distinction. But oh,

Roundels are what I craved, surely
At some point these merging and snags might stop
Pushing from the earth, there would be fullness.
A place not to rest; I have done with resting, with

Making do with the act itself and not the art. I
Am done marking time, I wish to pass
From nostalgia to grace, one grand jeté, one arcing,
Pendant, trusting leap. And landing, I see now

The decades have not brought me here. The way
Was unmarked. No amount of signs would guide
Me to this place - well, why not just say it - to
You. I am all in. You are what I’ve come for.

Suzanne Finnamore

jeté: A leap in ballet in which one leg is extended forward and the other backward. (French jeté: “thrown”)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Know For Now

I regret to say I cannot do a cartwheel; I've always felt bad about that. Nor can i stand on my head or touch the tip of my nose with my tongue or ride a unicycle. i have other useful and exhilarating skills; offhand i can't imagine one.

I don't play the bagpipes but just the sound of them is liable to make me weep, especially at a funeral or wake or wedding. i come unglued.

i know how to write, how to cook arroz con pollo and coq au vin, how to read really fast, how to bait a hook with a live worm without squirming, how to snorkel or hike or swim or stare into space for hours - mentally plotting out my latest novel or article - and forget Time and the outside world. i know how to raise a son, how to be friends with an ex, how to listen and how to survive in the business world without stabbing anyone in the back or swan diving off a high building. i know how to laugh really well, in fact i have a highly infectious laugh but not a cackle laugh or a nasal laugh. i know how to live, and not just survive. i consider living an art.

so i know about the existence of art as well, and its extreme importance. i believe love is an art as well. it may be that i see the god and the art in everything. therefore, i know how to be happy.

I think it's possible to be happy, it's impossible to be right. i choose happy: roller coaster jibe, warm rain Baptisms, irascible Eros, the sudden deluge, white lightning, the deadly fleet step of time at my back, screams and all. choosing now.

unhappy people are problematic: you can't take people's suffering away. that's the last thing i know, for now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"X" Previously Published in 2002 by Three Rivers Press, The Dictionary of Failed Relationships

\‘eks\ often capitalized, often attributive
noun (before 12th century) 1a: the 24th letter of the English alphabet. b: a graphic representation of this letter. 2: an unknown quantity. 3 : A former lover, also ex.
transitive verb (circa 1849) 1 : to mark with an x. 2: to cancel or obliterate with a series of x’s—usually used with out.

X: A Wholly Fictional Essay by Suzanne Finnamore

“One should never know too precisely whom one has married.” Friedrich Nietzsche

This is, as they say, a long story, but one with undeniably entertaining moments—some of which informed my workings as a functioning adult, one who has recently turned two hundred. Actually, thirty-six. I just feel two hundred.

I am soon to be divorced, for the second time. I should be ashamed, but I’m not. I’m inconvenienced mostly. Sometimes sad, sometimes grateful, as though I have been untied from the train tracks of life. You can be sad and grateful at the same time; that’s one thing I’ve learned. Also, property is everything. Buy the bastards out if necessary.

As always with a major breakup, and particularly divorce, I feel devastated yet freed, much like one of Lincoln’s slaves: I don’t know quite what to do with myself, but I am aware that a pressure has been lifted; constraints broken. For example, I am writing this while eating an individually wrapped Ding Dong, a small detail that I can’t help but include. Could I do that while married? Interesting. Like a photographer at the scene of a crime, I am intent on documenting everything, so that it may lessen the blow of actual firsthand reality, which assaults me daily.

I suppose I should start with Ex#2—also known as Soon-To-Be-Ex #2, or S2BX2—my currently estranged husband, age forty-two years, of five years. (Estranged is a perfect word; it efficiently includes the word strange.) I have recently been forced to acknowledge that ever since my second trimester last year, when I began to look like a gourd with legs, S2BX2 has been having affairs, even though he is, on the surface, remarkably trustworthy and likable. Perhaps that has been the problem. He has been too well liked, mostly by people with large breasts and an i at the end of their first name. He sells luxury cars for a living and is strikingly good looking, in that eventually you want to strike him. He cannot pass a mirror without doing the Sears-model half-turn, with that hand-in-pants-pocket-and-one-eyebrow-cocked move.

Historically, there is X1—my first husband, who is convinced that we should have stayed together, even though he tried to poison me with Snail Death after an argument concerning joint checking. He sprinkled some on my English muffin. “Just a little,” he said. “I didn’t mean it. If I had meant it, you’d be dead now. I always follow through on the things that are important to me.” So it was just a gesture. A shot across the bow. I ate half and was fine, if you don’t count the vomiting and headaches that persisted for a month, too long for X1 to suppress the brilliance of his plan. I did not press charges. Instead, I filed for crucifixion (his), otherwise known as divorce.

X1 has never remarried. He is far too busy making my life a living hell and going through mental scrapbooks of our sordid years together in the eighties (Reagan was president; a lot of bad shit went down). He will call and say, “Do you remember the time we made spinach lasagna in the middle of the night?” We were stoned, I say. I don’t remember. “Well, it was raining,” he said. “We were watching Bewitched on Nick At Nite, the episode where Dr. Bombay cures Darren from telling the truth.”

X1 is like a damn elephant. He never forgets anything, except the small detail of the SnailDeath incident. “Why can’t you forgive me?” he says. He says I need to work on my doubts, jealousies, and insecurities before I can rediscover our love.
X1 says we will always love each other, and that it’s because of my Karma that my marriage to S2BX2 is breaking up. He generally feels that the fact that I got married and had a child with X2 was just a minor passage. He will not validate any portion of my life that took place after October 11, 1990, which is the day we divorced. Every wedding anniversary, he still sends flowers, and on the anniversary of our divorce too, with a card that says We Are Mean to Be Together. I don’t know whether he means to leave out the T in Meant or not. It’s the kind of joke he would enjoy, especially the not explaining part. He is about an inch away from being one of R. Crumb’s brothers—the one that’s a street person, who swallows string and then pulls it back out his ass and starts over.

Then there’s the Crazy-Ass Bitch (CAB). CAB is the woman my temporarily still husband (S2BX2) sold a pre-owned automobile to and with whom he had his most recent affair; CAB turned out to be a bit of a psychotic—sewing his boxers shut and Krazy-gluing the pockets of his suits shut when he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps this was a “transitional relationship.” So whereas once he was proffering yellowfin tuna down her lily-white throat and knocking back sake as if it were oxygen, now he wishes she would fall down a cement stairwell. She turned out to have quite the stamina and imagination. I will give her that. She has taken the job of torturing S2BX2 right out of my hands. It’s really too delightful. The irony is that now that he wants to get rid of her, he attempts to hide out at my place. I almost never allow it, except for when he comes to see our daughter. There’s a grease spot where his car used to be, and I like seeing it. I don’t want his car covering it up again.

“I told her we reconciled,” he says. “Can I just park my car here in the driveway?”

“I don’t even want your toothpicks here.” I say. The multi-colored toothpicks that I packed up along with his martini shaker in the large cardboard box of his belongings, which he was loading into his car as he asked for sanctuary. Imbecile.

The silver martini shaker should have been my first clue that there was serious trouble, at the instant that he brought it home from Restoration Hardware. Its “James Bond time in the suburbs” vibe should have been my clue. James Bond never married, and was an international spy. He never gets old, either; he is just recast. S2BX2 was trying to be James Bond. I was in the way, like someone standing in front of the television. It is possible that CAB was originally cast as Pussy Galore.

CAB calls me on the phone, making heavily nuanced statements (for example, “You need to let him go, you bitch!”) CAB sends me chihuahua turds wrapped in heart-embossed tissue, a dozen clam pizzas, and nasty notes in her childish scrawl. Like Glenn Close, CAB will not be ignored. She is the artist formerly known as Small-Foot Bitch, because while we were still together, I found a charge on S2BX2’s credit card from Neiman’s, and he swore it was a gift for me and that it was in his office. So he brought it home that night, and it was a pair of Manolo Blahniks—size four. He said he was going to just give me the sample size, and then I could exchange it for my own size, which is nine. And I believed him. That was during the time when I wanted to believe, was desperate to believe. If he had said that the earth is flat, I would have said, “As a fucking pancake.”

But that’s all over now. We’re in the vortex of uncoupling. Working on the legal settlement, alternately hating each other’s guts and waxing nostalgic, still having occasional sex. It’s incredibly complex, and you can’t explain it to people. They either make you feel pitiful or guilty. Neither are emotions that I covet. I mean, no one got this excited when we got married. They just showed up and drank too much, ate the roast beef and poached salmon. Plus, it was over in a day. Divorce is much slower, more protracted. It’s like LSD time. Not that I would know. I mean, I don’t even take Tylenol, not after they killed those people. (It’s not like I’m lucky, either. I mean, look. Take a good look. Maybe you can avoid my life. Maybe you can steer around it.)
Divorce, unlike marriage, has a crazy schemata of its own. It’s like the soapbox derby that they have at the top of twin peaks every third Sunday in San Francisco: There are no rules. You can put a 1950s stove on wheels and wear a chef’s hat, and that can be your soapbox derby racer. Or, you can make a ratmobile with a long, hairless tail made of licorice. Mine would be a Pottery Barn couch on wheels with me and the baby and no husband, careening down the hill, screaming. CAB would be right behind on a Ninja bike. X1 would be on a huge, Styrofoam English muffin that’s embroidered with live snails spelling out COME BACK, BABY!

S2BX2 is always saying he loves me, too. The way he expresses it is through filing for divorce and screwing the Crazy-Ass Bitch. “And that’s just the ones we know about,” my best friend, Sarina, says. Yeah. Right, I say. She would like his penis to fall off, the way a baby’s umbilical cord does, in the middle of the night. Noooo, I’m still using it, I say thoughtfully.
“What would Gloria Steinem say?” Sarina asks, mildly reproachful. I don’t know, I reply. “What would Camille Paglia say?” she asks. I don’t know, I say annoyed. Let the lesbians duke it out among themselves. This is my divorce. I can do it however I want. I can have a party if I want to. I can frame the divorce petition, in a silver frame. I can do that. In fact, I have done that. It’s in my office. It makes a fantastic conversation piece.

S2BX2, although admittedly great in bed, is a lifetime-achievement cheater. He was the kid who always insisted on being the banker in Monopoly games and then won, pulling five-hundreds out of thin air. But it’s all he knows how to do. He’s never been faithful to anyone. He’s like an epileptic pilot that way and should not be working for Air Monogamy. Here’s something interesting. Since we separated, we are having more sex than ever. I have become the Other Woman. Plus, I get checks now. I never got checks before. So there’s that. It’s called Spousal Support monies. It should be called Keep Quiet, Bitch monies. Stay Away from My Lexus with That Icepick monies. Why don’t they call things what they are?

I’ve decided I am through with clever, charming men. I want someone simple, maybe even slightly retarded. I’m thinking one ear. A simpleton, anyway. I call my girlfriends for talk. Men don’t want to talk after the first year; they just want you to do their laundry and screw doggy style. Men are nice, but they are not strictly necessary, the way ketchup is to French fries. You can do without. I will do without. For at least the next few hours. God, this celibacy is grueling. I mean, divorce. Divorce is grueling. But I will keep doing it until I get it right. Either marriage or divorce. One of them I must perfect. Clearly, this is my life plan.
Tomorrow, I will see S2BX2. He’s coming over to visit our daughter. What should I wear? I must look fantastic. I must harm him in at least one aspect. Even though he filed for divorce, winning still seems possible. I will meditate on it. I will go to the closet and exclude mercy from my selection of attire. This is war.

I decide on the outfit from Bebe, a store I formerly eschewed because its clothes would perfectly attire a prostitute on Nob Hill. And yet, last week I could not resist the blatant allure of the flimsy and the stringy and the clothes that say, “Come get me, you great big hunk of a man.”

Bebe. The saleswomen all appear to be from an alternate planet, where there are no pores or breasts. Not a menstrual period among them. They twirl about like skeletal tops and pay no attention whatsoever to me, and for this I commend them. I need none of their attention, I am more than capable of humiliating myself on my own and prefer it thus. One of the girls is on the store telephone to her boyfriend, telling him that she hates him and then laughing maniacally, putting the phone down for a minute to her bony chest, and then bringing it back up to trill, “I do. I do hate you!” She has a diamond in her nose, a precious rock fastened onto her very nose. I have nothing fastened anywhere and resolve to keep it that way, for aerodynamic speed and efficiency. Also, I feel no urge to have tiny metal spikes rammed through my body tissue so that I may look like gay Zulu.

I choose a pair of capri pants that are a Gucci knockoff, bright sixties paisley against black background, side zipper. My blouse is silk chiffon and terrifyingly expensive; it matches the pants perfectly in that let’s-kill-all-the-homeless kind of aplomb. These clothes are the opposite of actual clothing. For this, I am thankful, because actual clothing has gotten me into my current situation. I need costuming—the more inappropriate and scanty, the better.

S2BX2 calls from his cellular telephone to say he will be late because he thinks—no, he is certain—that CAB is following him in a red Ford Escort GT. I ask him how he knows it is her, and he says she has a pink garter belt hanging from her rearview mirror. I wonder aloud how far one has to search to find her exact blend of intelligence, wit, and style. S2BX2 screeches around a corner, announcing that he has lost her, breathing heavily. It is entirely possible that he is masturbating. I put nothing past him.

When he finally arrives, he is red faced and somehow icy at the same time. He seems to feel a sense of effrontery that I have kept the connubial home. He wanders around, picking up cigar ashtrays and candlesticks and coasters, his lips curled tightly. He is taking a mental inventory of everything I have bought since he left. It all seems to insult his memory, his legacy. I am certain he felt that after he left, I would transform our home into a museum, along with my vagina. He is so often mistaken about the most basic truths of life.

“When did you get this?” he asks, holding up the edge of a pumpkin silk chenille throw.

Oh that, I say brightly, walking past him just close enough so he can smell me. I have taken the liberty of daubing Jil Sander No. 4 behind each ear. I have spent perfume on him, and it is not in vain. I can see by the way he shoves his hands into his pants pockets that he is nervous and excited. He wants to discuss CAB, but I wave my hand in the air, as if to dry my fingernails. My work is done here. I escort him to the door, kissing our daughter and telling her to have a wonderful time with Daddy. I am channeling Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, only younger. I shut the door behind him and twirl the deadbolt shut, so that he can hear its sound. So that it is the last sound. Not only have I had the last word, I have had the last sound.

After he has gone, and upon checking my e-mail, I am horrified to discover that yes, the whole world has gone mad and is calling this madness spiritualism. I am in receipt of an electronic Tantra Nepalese Totem. I am instructed to send copies to whomever I think is in need of good fortune. In my mind, of course, I choose both my husbands, past and present, and their respective mistresses. The Tantra Nepalese Totem includes vital advice, such as “Eat plenty of whole rice,” and “Don’t believe anything you hear” and “Do not sleep as much as you would like to.” It’s just this kind of thing that keeps me believing that computers are black holes and should be avoided.

In continuation of intestinal self-destructive mode, I drive through Burger King for lunch. Waxing maternal, I decide I am a growing girl just as my daughter is, and that I need protein. I order a five-piece chicken nugget pack. After nearly maiming a pedestrian who has stepped out into traffic—as if it is his right as a United States citizen—I grab the paper bag, take one bite and am startled. It turns out that the food handlers had temporarily lapsed in their blinding efficiency. It is a jalapeño cheese nugget pack. Outraged, I take another bite: terrifyingly delicious. I save the rest for cocktail hour, reheating them in the microwave—even better than I had originally estimated.

Meanwhile, S2BX2 is coming on Saturday with cheap, Irish movers to get his furniture and boxes. Arguments loom over who gets the pewter pepper grinder, electric pencil sharpener, weather vane, et cetera. I think this will be the last horrible thing we have to go through, until he moves in with a size-zero receptionist and the whole travesty begins again. I myself have an invisible sign that reads DON’T DATE ME, I CHAIN-SMOKE, I’M BITTER, AND I INCLUDE A GRABBY TODDLER; this has dramatically decreased my social life. Have now resigned myself to a lifetime of jalapeño cheese bites, midrange wine, and Seinfeld reruns. Why has no one proposed yet? I feel bad about that. I should have been asked by now; divorce will be final Tuesday. Lowering standards by the minute, but still nothing. Recently decided that the contractor working on the construction site down the street looked like Robert Downy Jr.. Slowed car down and tried to look available, despite toddler seat in the back and Elmo sunshade. Then, today, he looked like Edward Norton. I know my vision is impaired and cannot be trusted with even the simplest tasks, much less dating. Not that I have come within talon distance of a man.

I would have to run over the Downy/Norton contractor to meet him: jump the curb, ruin German car, chance arrest. Even running him over may not ensure an introduction. Maybe I could just clip him as he crosses the street? This would require keener eyesight than I apparently have. I would probably clip him into a coma.

I’m just not sending out the right vibe lately. Perhaps the fact that I frequently wear stained sweatpants and free, editing-house, XL T-shirts is holding me back. Save for the recent escapade with the Bebe attire, I just can’t seem to get back into the daily donning of intelligent-slut-for-hire outfits that lure men. Even shoes with laces evade me. Plus, my hair is Fran Lebowitz-esque. I think my eyes are getting closer together. I don’t know. Judgment clouded.

To make matters exceptionally worse, my brother is getting married next month. It’s all I can do to keep from chopping his foot off to deter this obvious mistake. Still, I feign happiness for him. His wedding should be interesting. They’re doing it in a Catholic church and I plan to wear something smart, like army fatigues. I may accessorize with an assault rifle. I don’t want anyone to get married right now. Why can’t people consider my feelings? Selfishness of world continues to astound me.

Mail order shopping is shaping up as an issue. Bought a floor lamp last night, plaid cashmere pajamas, and twelve pairs of cotton raglan socks. This should fill out my divorce wardrobe nicely. New lines on my face are popping up with hideous regularity. The beginnings of a mustache intrigue me—surely, this is not the right response. One leg seems longer than the other. Where will it end? Yet, just now, I am unexpectedly cheered by a news item appearing on my computer screen:

Chronic work stress and divorce can be a deadly combination for men, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the State University of New York-Oswego studied data from 12,366 patients who participated in the seven-year Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.
Of 10,904 men who were married at the beginning of the trial, the researchers found that those who stayed married were less likely to die from a number of causes than those who divorced. Of those who divorced during the trial, 1,332 died from various causes, including some 663 from cardiovascular causes. (Reuters)

Information is so invigorating. So much of it on how to get a man, so little of it on how to get rid of one. To this end, I proffer a handy list, which I have been compiling for my divorcing girlfriends, some of whom have clearly been born yesterday and need my advice as well as physical intervention. One of them actually had moved out from her home after she caught her rabbi husband with his hand up the nanny. I immediately alerted said girlfriend to the folly of her actions, installed her back in her home, and changed the locks myself. As for the mezuzah on the doorframe, I bashed it off with a sledgehammer and mailed it to his temple, along with the Polaroids (one needn’t ask what was within the photos; Polaroids are never lucky, I am afraid, unless properly dealt with). She looked on as I sealed the envelope, tears frozen on her once-blossoming cheeks, which had turned the color of ash.

Yes. It is sad what ignorance does to women without resources who have been struck with an infidelity. It can and will render them childlike, like palsied Shirley Temples, throwing themselves on the floor and crying about the general unfairness of life, et cetera. I try to be kind but firm, and in the end they all thank me. It looks like a hothouse here come Christmas, so numerous are my bouquets of thanks from women who have lost neither their minds nor their shirts.

I hope that no one reading this will ever be faced with the travesty of divorce. It should not happen to any good woman. But if it does? If you fall in with the wrong kind, the way I did? Be glad for divorce. It is God’s way of telling you Girl? You have fucked up again! Now, here I’m going to give you a chance to start over. Go out there and please, please, please show some sense. Don’t make me come down there again and bail your ass out.

Ten Simple Yet Elegant Keys To Divorce

1. Change the locks.

2. Make him pay for the divorce—and anything else you can.

3. Keep everything beginning with consonants (children, money, house, cars, furniture, real estate, medical benefits, retirement funds, linens).

4. Allow him to keep everything beginning with vowels (armoires, umbrellas).

5. Sequester precious items at a friend’s house. Men never remember what they have—if they did, they would not have ruined their lives by running around with whores.

6. Don’t fight in front of the children.

7. …“Children” includes your X/STBX. Fighting only adds gasoline to the fire. He won’t care how angry you are, because he exists wholly in his own tiny birdcage of a brain.

8. Take lots of baths; get manicures and pedicures; have your hair expensively cut.

9. Everything, no matter how ludicrous and squalid it seems at the time of the split, will get better and better, until you will wonder why you cared so much in the first place.

10. When confronted with a question regarding fairness to your ex, err on the side of Lifetime Vendetta. That way, you will never feel a fool, and you will also have kept everything of worth in your rightful possession. In short: You may have once been in love, or you may still be in love—but you are not crazy.