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


X
\‘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.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Are You A Big Deal?



i am not a big deal. my friend Augusten Burroughs is a big deal. I am a medium deal. i am the product of persistence and an education that i lucked into. Berkeley made me. most of my writing professors went on to win Pulitzer prizes. they were astonishing. they gave me encouragement and told me: you will be a writer, you may experience fame. i have no idea how they knew this -- looking back on the poetry i wrote at Cal i wince, mostly. yet they gave me that gift; i was not too crazy for them, because they were all crazier than i was and had permission, as erudite white men, to be that crazy. Phillip Levine. Thom Gunn. Robert Pinsky. Peter Dale Scott. i will always be grateful for these men.

i left college in the eighties, Gordon Gekko was a hero, i had no idea what to do with an English major. it honestly didn't occur to me what i would do after college. and so i waitressed, secretaried, cleaned houses... oh my, the shitty jobs. then i realized most of my funny interesting friends had gone into Advertising, and were well compensated. i decided i would do this as well. it took me 5 years of rejections and constant, humilating self-promotion with various ad agencies to get my first job as an advertising creative/copywriter in SF. again - persistence, mistakes, luck. eventually the money came, and the dubious advertising quasifame. i worked on Levis at FCB/SF for 8 years - glorious, posh, crazy, fun. traveled the world shooting tv campaigns. all of my art director partners were brilliant, all were men, and all 3 are like brothers to me, still. it's beautiful. i still do free lance ad gigs, my dirty little secret (they continue to save me. writing books isn't a get rich quick scheme. not the way i do it). these literary-free jobs saved my house when my husband ran off with another woman. pablo was 15 months old.

i wanted to die. instead i wrote a book. i thought SPLIT would be savaged my the reviewers, instead it was praised. shocking. i get heartfelt, grateful emails and letters from women who were abandoned, they say the book saved them -- and that is so gratifying and good. i ended up giving back to the world in that odd way. so i'm a medium deal with an odd way. it suits me. if i were a big deal, i would be expected to be on time for things, i would be taken away from my writing and fucking around routine, my son would see little of me, i would miss him terribly, and i would feel an enormous pressure to top every book i write. when really, there is no predicting these things. like a violinist, i just want to play my violin, barefoot, in my own house: a medium deal with an odd way.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Waiting For The Movie Of Your Life




Pictured at left is a Victorian era painting of Circe. Circe was a goddess, and a damned good one - she has withstood the test of time, not unlike the wheel. Like the wheel, Circe did one thing and she did it impeccably: screwing sailors, and in more ways than one that leaps to mind.

Circle had style, it went hand in glove with her professional calling; she understood that successful women always, always dress the part. She wore diaphanous gowns in rich, chocolate shades, and she saw no percentage in wearing a bra or even nipple guards, which makes her unique in her category of Highly Effective Businesswomen and Icons. Circe was a style force; she created trends of both gowns and behavior.

Her second expertise was this: she would send out a siren song, something along the lines of a "sex foghorn." Sailors would be drawn to her cozy private island, where she would seduce them and then -- wait for it -- turn them into swine. In this painting, you can see some of her ex-lovers strewn around her pretty feet, as she drinks to them. If you can't do shit like Circe, then I don't know why anyone would want to study you or witness your experiences- chockfull of failures. I certainly can’t fathom why they would pay good money to see a film about any lesser style icon. But Hollywood continues to try to make silk purses out of sow's ears, to portray weaker, primarily fully clad women who proffer just BITS of wisdom - and that is why Hollywood, rather than do a really enthralling film or musical like "Circe!', or a Blair Witch knockoff of "Night of the Swine" - falls back on a movie like Sex and the City.

The Sex and the City movie. Sweet Mother of Odysseus, how its fans poured forth, giggling like teens in brightly colored patent leather raincoats, raising a manicured fist to "eclectic” fashion-- queuing for a movie that is an extension of a television show. Not even a real movie, although I don't claim to know what that is; I lost track.

In movies and in reality, the most important thing a woman can do in this culture is...get married. Stay married no matter what; if your husband strays , you do not ask any pointed questions and you forgive him. if you can, you pay him back and he forgives you as well. Take good physical care of yourself and don’t 'let yourself go', which implies someone whose appendix and bladder and ire has burst all at once in a grisly display of overage. Keep a nice house. Love God and be Spiritual and open yourself up to Abundance. Ardently strive not just to age gracefully, but also to stand in one fantastic place despite the movement of time in a Chronological Sense. Better still, keep exercising and hold back the barge. You can improve upon the past: gain years, lose a bit of weight. Gain, lose, gain, and lose. Do not muck it up. Set out briskly in all directions, as indicated by culture and fashion magazines.

I'm no exception; I think...what if I lose my job and downsize, or move to the South and write in Crude Sheds -- can I sell my house? Do I have enough equity? And, are these jeans too loose, now? Is size ten Gap Slim Cut really a size ten? What about my arms? I once was told, "The arms are the first thing to go." I was about five years old; I kept it in mind. It seems to me they are going; they are moving on without me. Deny it I might, yet I feel real hostility toward the intention of my upper arms.

Unbelievably, in a time of a war and economic disaster...I still have questions. Can I wear cork wedge sandals, since I wore them the first time around? Am I embarrassing myself? How badly? Which rudimentary cosmetics are best, let's say, which three products at bare minimum? If I had to choose just three. I pore over splashy fashion books by gay authors on the subject; the gay men know. I know they know, and for a pittance they are willing to divulge their transsexual derived beauty tips. An entire subculture of men who wanted to be girls have secrets on how to look like women who are not girls but want to be.

Another subsection of Americans claim not to think about aging, they say they are not focused there. I worship them, in this case. Sadly, many of us are still twisting our rear view mirrors in heavy traffic and checking our look, glossing our lips. Madly and with small cunning we're dying our hair every six weeks and slathering on grapefruit Olalla product and buying pricey accessories we can't afford. Adorn, adorn, adorn. Dammit, if I can't fix the inside, put something sparkly on top.

I memorized my Life Script and tracked the screenplay word for word. I got married, we had a baby, the millennium came, my husband left, and I couldn't really afford a sitter. Ironically, movies came to a slamming finish. I didn't miss them; it turned out it was my husband who loved the movies. Huh. Yetin older magazines at my hair stylist's I see the Ny movie theater line for Sex And The City wending its way down a boulevard in Manhattan. And I feel like -- What? You can;t make a movie about a TV show unless there are spaceships or cartoons or death involved.

What is this? Some kind of twisted coda? I was more than comfortable with the way the show ended, or the way I though it ended... somewhere in between the grizzled Parisian (a Russian ballet dancer, in reality) and the Chris Noth man, Bradshaw twirls offstage, spinning and glistening like a rexie top. The pratfall in the pool, the chance meeting in Paris - all the things that never happen in real life - had happened; and I'd fucking well suspended my disbelief. They pulled it off, a masterful ensemble.

But a movie? A two-hour plus film extravaganza with relentless designer gowns and a London Premiere hat that made Sara Jessica Parker look like she had a SHELLACKED Victorian birdcage pinned unto her skull?? Christ in a hand basket. The greed, the push push push. It got panned; all the actresses were savaged in the press, the New York Times had a field day. And naturally the film made a fortune. Is there a sequel in the works? A prequel? A quelling of the maddening tide of newer, brighter more false imagery for us "girls"? No, babe.

We're Americans, our culture wants our faces tight as Hopi drums, our sequins bright, our metallic shiny, and our teeth whiter than white. Happy beginnings, happy middles, happy endings. And gayer-than-gay high fashion travesty birdcage hats in London, that too. Everything in a size zero please, with botox on top and a re-virginated cherry. In movies as well as life. Otherwise, it won't test well. Life, I suspect - aging in particular - would not test well. Life's a long, slow plot with a disastrous ending in which everyone dies. Except our heroine, Circe.

All the things that happen in stories, myths and the movies and not in real life? We are raised on them, as women. We wait to be married, to be on television or to look like we are, to be adored by perfect husbands…or at least to be some kind of mature, wise, graceful earth mother role models for the young.

But I know this one thing: If you wait for all this to happen, you will be old before your time; you will miss childbirth, you will miss love or even a semblance of love. You will be waiting for that brawny dimple-chinned movie star to round the corner, for that impossible coincidence that changes everything into shimmering perfection. And the credits will neatly roll.

You could miss your life, waiting for the movie of your life.

"Women just want to be engaged,” said Sarah Jessica Parker, executive producer of the Sex And The City Movie, in a national entertainment magazine. "They're not that complicated."

I am shaking my head in a circle at this, part vigorous nod, part Hell To The No.

"Killing John Updike" by Augusten Burroughs, "Possible Side Effects", St. Martins Press




SPEAKING OF JOHN UPDIKE SIGNING ALL MY UPDIKE 1ST EDITION HARDCOVER BOOKS in 1998 - even his early work and the universally acclaimed Rabbit Run teratology (!) ? Well, fast-forward two years…and now I’m deeper into collecting signed first editions, which are worth substantially more immediately after the author DIES. Which is morbid but true, almost natural…not to mention lucrative for the living. SO.000000ooooooooooooooooo…. Augusten Burroughs and I wrote this little essay together - he wrote 90% of it, i added the inhuman bits.

it’s a true account of one night a few years ago…when we were ALL still drinking. The essay, Killing John Updike, appears in his book, POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS , which is screamingly funny. All need to read DRY and MAGICAL THINKING as well. he somehow manages to be funnier than David Sedaris.


“Killing John Updike’
by Augusten Burroughs, from Possible Side Effects", St Martins Press


Tonight, my lunatic writer friend, Suzanne, worked me into a frenzy. “Baby,” she said, “John Updike is pushing eighty! He could die at any moment. Buy his first editions, NOW.” She was calling from California -land of the vineyards- and her voice contained a Chardonnay edge. “I don't know,” I said. First editions are expensive. Did I really want to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a book I couldn't even read, because it had to remain perfect? “I'm telling you, this man could drop dead any minute,” she said. “And he's the most famous writer in the world. My God. Whatever you buy will double, triple in value. Possibly overnight. BUY NOW!” Now that was an interesting point. If Updike died tonight, my two hundred dollars could be worth four hundred dollars tomorrow. I could stick his book on eBay, and with the profit, I could buy a slew of novels at Barnes and Noble. I would pre-order whatever Elizabeth Berg had coming out. I would buy every Joyce Carol Oates, because it's time to read her. Or maybe only every fifth book of hers. I would buy multiple copies of Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss in paperback and give them as gifts. Maybe she was right. So I went online and found a bunch of Updikes. But they were horrifyingly expensive. One of them was two thousand dollars. And he wasn't even dead yet. Some of them were signed, which made them much more valuable. But the fucker could still sign. If you forced him to sign, put a pen in his hand and a gun to his head, he could still sign his name. So imagine how much these would be worth when he could no longer sign at all, even at gunpoint, due to death. If I was going to spend two thousand dollars on a book about a rabbit, that old man better well be dead soon, or I was going to be furious. I selected a signed first edition from the list. A moderate first, in the five hundred dollar price range. Then I emailed Suzanne back. “Okay, baby. DONE. Bought Updike. Now what?” She wrote back immediately. “FANTASTIC. XOXOXOXOX. BUY MORE NOW. I JUST HAVE A FEELING. I KNOW THESE THINGS.” She was crazy, and tonight she was crazed. We allowed that since she and I had both been published through sheer greed and willpower, surely we could do this one little...coup. Using just our minds. Finnamore has been collecting Updike first editions since she was 14. When she published Otherwise Engaged with Knopf, John Updike, who’s been with Knopf since he was born, had very kindly signed them all and shipped them back to her in California. “It’s ironic,” she wrote, “Because his innate generosity and kindness in the past, now makes him doubly worth killing.” It was uncanny. She seemed certain of the great novelist's impending death. Was there even a remote possibility that she would have something to do with it? If so, was it wrong of me to then buy these first editions? The last thing I wanted was to get myself involved in some sort of “insider trading” nightmare. Then she sent another email. “The thing is, I worship John Updike. I'd crumple from awe if I saw him alive and in person. I think he is the greatest male writer of the twentieth century. I would drink his bath water and shine his little Yankee shoes. But I still hoard those first edition as though they were a very life insurance policy on the man, and I am his nineteen-year-old wife. It's just awful. I blame money and the fact of its usefulness in every single situation except death.” And I was the same way, just as hateful and greedy. So couldn't I buy more? It wasn't like I was throwing money away on particleboard nightstands at Wal-Mart. These were enduring classics. In Extra, Extra Fine condition, no rips, stains or price clips. So I went back online and bought two more books. Now, I had purchased three books which cost me more money than some people spend on their first cars. I emailed Suzanne. “Okay, now I'm broke. I bought two more, so have three. He better die.” She said, “Okay, let's do it. Let's kill him.” I said, “Okay. How?” She said, “Let's constantly think of him as dying. Let's concentrate very hard. And in the morning, we'll watch CNN. I bet you anything they'll announce that he died in his sleep. And nobody will be able to trace it to us. Because who even knows where he lives, and we're all the way over here, where we live.” Suzanne is a diabolical genius, which is why I adore her. She then said “BUY SIGNED FIRST EDITIONS OR NOT AT ALL. Check out ALIBRIS.COM AND POWELL’S.” So for the remainder of the night, we exchanged emails. I bought Couples. $495 signed by author, with light wear to dust jacket. She wrote: "HE'LL BE DEAD BY MORNING. “How do you think he'll die?” I wrote. “Do you think he might choke? I could see him choking. I was just looking at a picture of his neck and he has a slender, graceful neck. The perfect neck for a corn chip to get lodged in. I bet he chokes.” She wrote back, “Maybe. But I’m thinking stroke. Flip a switch, nothing. He's gone. Clean and simple. In his sleep. He is the greatest living American writer so we can't have him suffer. At least not very much.” She was right. Whatever killed him, had to kill him fast. And then I realized: someday, this will be me. Some horrible, selfish, greedy bald writer will buy my early books online and then will await my immediate demise. In fact, it was probably happening right this very minute. I decided to check. I'd never looked up my own name on a used bookstore website before. It never occurred to me that I could be collectable, like a cup from Burger King. So I went back to the website where I bought the Updike books and typed in my own name. Running with Scissors. First edition. © 2002 Augusten Burroughs. St. Martin's Press, New York, New York. Memoir about author's unusual childhood. Unread. As new. In dust-wrappers. Signed on title page. $200.00. I was shocked. It was already happening. People were selling my books online, collecting them, waiting for me to relapse with alcohol and then die. I'd make Page Six, “Scissors Author Dead, apparent alcohol-overdose.” Then that two hundred dollar book would be worth four hundred, five hundred dollars. About the same price as a damaged Updike, non-dead. What else were people selling? I wondered. I decided to log onto eBay. There, I typed my name into the little box and hit, Search. A moment later, listings appeared. Books, books, books, and then MY WATCH. I looked at my computer screen in utter disbelief. I clicked on the link next to the Picture of the watch and was taken to a page. “Rolex GMT Master. Stainless Steel, black face. Watch worn for publicity during promotion of # 1 Bestselling book, RUNNING WITH SCISSORS. Watch appears on author's wrist in many magazine photographs, including ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, PEOPLE.” The ad gave the name of the seller. The name of the seller was my brother. I called him immediately. “What the fuck are you doing, you Ass Burger?” As usual, he was unmoved. “Huh? What are you talking about?” “I just saw my watch on eBay. What are you doing?” My brother said, “What do you mean, what am I doing? I'm selling the watch. You said you wanted me to sell it and you gave it to me to sell. So I'm selling it.” He was correct, of course. I had given him the watch to sell. I wanted to buy a new watch. One that was even flashier and more pretentious. Even though that watch was nearly new, I needed to sell it and use the money toward the purchase of one costing ten times as much. I had reached a point in my life and career where I was allowed one lavish, ridiculous thing. And I'd decided it had to be the flashiest watch Dennis would be seen next to me wearing. Which meant no diamonds, as I originally wanted, but lots of gold. So I'd given it to my brother, assuming he'd sell it to his friend, who owns a jewelry store. I never expected him to sell it on eBay. With all those…words. “Well, it's weird,” I said. “What's weird about it?” he asked. “We already have three bids.” The whole thing reeked of Billy Beer II. I recall in the nineteen seventies when Jimmy Carter was elected president, his trailer trash brother launched a line of beer. Billy Beer. Mortifying the president. Another thing came to mind: Demi Moore's mother posing nude, beaver flashing, for a porn magazine. But my brother thought there was nothing strange about selling my watch on eBay. “Look, you gave me the watch to sell. I'm selling it. You want me to take the ad down, I can take the ad down.” “No,” I said. “Keep it up. Sell it. Get rid of it.” My greed was far more powerful than my pride. I wanted my new watch. And then I had an idea. What if I gave him more stuff to sell? What else would people buy? Just how crazy were people, anyway? “Do you think people would buy other things?” I asked him. He didn't have to think about this for very long. “Oh, sure. People will buy all sorts of things. What else do you want to sell?” Well, hmm. I could sell my silver keychain. I hated it. It was worth maybe twenty-five cents. But would somebody pay fifty bucks for it? “Sure,” my brother said. “I bet somebody'd pay a hundred for it.” Shit. Maybe people would buy my empty Blenheim Ginger Ale bottles. If I packaged them in a tasteful brown cloth sack and said, “Blenheim Ginger Ale bottles -empty. Consumed by # 1 Bestselling Author Augusten Burroughs while writing essay collection. $ 1,000.” Maybe I could email my writer friend, Haven. We email every single day, all day, constantly. Perhaps I could gather together a dozen of our emails and sell these as a package. Say for three hundred dollars. Then I could send her half. And we could each go out to Red Lobster. I thought of John Updike. Surely when he dies, somebody will be riffling through his home, looking for things to sell. It was unlikely that his own children, if he had any, would sell his nail clippers, underwear or Chapstick. But certainly cousins would do this. Nieces and nephews would absolutely offer his pens, unused pads of paper, bookends for sale. Probably, other things. John Updike -legendary American author. For auction: Chair cushion, blue toile fabric. Cushion from desk chair, used daily by celebrated author. Distinctive impressions in pillow, from correlating anatomical features of author. Condition is described as 'well enjoyed.' Cushion manufactured circa 1940. Believed to be from Sears Roebuck & Co. This is an authentic piece of Americana, from the personal estate of one of the countries most famous and widely read authors. Truly a unique collectable. One of a kind. Minimum bid: $3,500.00 But that's what happens when you die. The vultures come. Sometimes, even before you die. Long before my grandmother passed away, her other vulture grandchildren carted Persian carpets, Ming Vases, expensive Italian fruitwood tables out of her house. They used vans, these cousins of mine. And they did this years before the woman was in a wheelchair and on a breathing machine, let alone dead. She had simply slowed down, is all. And there they were, greedy little hands outstretched, gimme, gimme, gimme. When my friend Pighead died, his mother had his entire apartment packed up, boxed and cleaned within twenty-four hours. She was asking, “Do you want that print?” And I told her, “That print, that you hate because it's of a naked man, is worth far more than this apartment. Maybe you better keep that for yourself.” Bitch, I didn't say. But wanted to. If one were to watch us from a great distance, with the sound off and in fast-motion, one would see an individual begin to limp, and then dozens of other individuals invade the territory of the infirm individual, carting away belongings, clinging near the deathbed, waiting. We were animals, true. But we were also like insects. And here I was, with my three new John Updike novels, checking the CNN homepage every five minutes for BREAKING NEWS. John Updike -dead at 76. Story to follow. Well, I decided, if he was dead by morning, there would be nobody to blame but me. If John Updike was dead when I woke up, then I had killed him with my hateful greed. Suzanne, too, would be guilty. But somehow, I was most guilty because I got the most excited. After all, she had merely suggested I buy his books. I'm the one who actually spent the money. That shows true pathology. If anybody deserved to die in his sleep tonight, or choke on a tortilla chip, it was me. I turned off my computer and climbed into bed. Dennis would be home in an hour. And he would find me in bed, as though sick I tucked into Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, which was swiftly proving to be the finest, most elegant book ever written. And then I thought, hey. Wait a fucking minute. And I got back out of bed and went back online. Where I found a first edition, signed. I clicked, ADD TO CART. And then I said out loud, “Okay, Ira. You're number's up.”

"The Layers" By Stanley Kunitz, Our Poet Laureate


The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz

Thursday, June 4, 2009

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 house in California? 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 and working novelist, 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 is an international bestseller, has been named a Best of 2008 Book by Library Journal, 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, Amazon.com - 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 of $600K on this fucking toybox 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.

Monday, June 1, 2009

To Find Love, Abandon Standards


Picture at right, is Augusten Burroughs. Pictured below are my parents on their wedding day in 1956 (see bookjacket). This was a great day; I wanted to make it into a fine, ironic dustjacket for my divorce memoir, but Fate and PenguinUSA would have none of it. Fourteen years later they were divorced. They went on to marry a total of three other people and they never stopped loving each other; divorce is a tight cornered game without explicit rules.)

I grudgingly admit that for the kind of attendance and service I desire, marriage is the only game in town. I want to learn about true commitment and connections. I honestly do. I think most men are full of grace and heart, beneath their hard, shiny armor. I think love fills their workman's boots, I think it seeps from their lock-box hearts into the atmosphere as they sleep.




So I asked Augusten Burroughs, a fiercely candid man who is happily coupled and also gay, which gives him an objectiveness impossible to find elsewhere. I pry hard for valuable, insider trading tips. Here are his edicts on mating, fresh from the information highway.

Re: Standards
BWABEE, STANDARDS get in the way of finding TRUE LOVE. Because you know what? The man who is RIGHT for you is going to look nothing like what you imagine. I, for example, always knew I would end up with an Iranian physician -somebody with chiseled, masculine features, a 5 o'clock shadow that began to appear at noon; a man who wore Armani suits and just reeked of brilliance and utter competence. Somebody who would surprise me with a gold Rolex Daytona just "because it's Tuesday and I love you."

Instead, I landed a guy who, the year before last, gave me shampoo for my birthday. And who has no interest in physics or cosmology and no matter HOW MUCH I SCREAM AT HIM or try to explain it WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND these things which matter most to me. But? he cooks. If somebody is mean to me he withdraws a meat cleaver from his back pocket. And even though he's about as romantic as a shoebox, he's perfect for me. And he's ten years older. I mean, when he's sixty? I'll be ONLY 50. So no, throw all your expectations and lists and MUST-HAVES directly into the trash and start over.

Here are the ONLY requirements:

1. Must have own source of income.
2. Must not be a criminal
3. Must not be married
4. NEED not be handsome but you MUST find him attractive, more so on each date.
5. Reads
6. Is patient, non judgemental and has no history of mental illness -especially manic depression, chronic depression, treatment-resistant depression or any other fucking flavor of incurable depression.

and that's really it.

AB

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Split, Now Available in Paperback...and my interview with Carrie Link..


AN INTERVIEW WITH SUZANNE FINNAMORE

As many of you already know, I have a love that borders on obsessive with the book Split. What many of you may not know, is why. I have loved Suzanne Finnamore's writing since I first read Otherwise Engaged and later The Zygote Chronicles. She is a masterful, dead-on writer, and mercifully FUNNY.

And therein lies the major reason I love Split, she takes on a subject so not funny - being unceremoniously dumped - and makes you pee your pants while you're wiping your eyes with the deep truths and profound insights she has. Deep and funny. What's better than that? Nothing. Not if you ask me.

So, I was able to convince Suzanne to do a blog interview with me in honor of the fact that SPLIT is now available to order (paperback) on Amazon!

Get a cuppa, sit back and enjoy a funny and deep interview with SUZANNE FINNAMORE! The first part is a previous interview she did, then my questions immediately follow:

Q: ARE YOU WORKING ON A BOOK?

A: always and never. i cling to freelance advertising copywriting because
it's so much easier than writing, and i get to work with a partner in crime: my art director sean mullens or ken woodard.

Q: DO YOU WRITE AT THE SAME TIME EACH DAY?

A: yes. morning. in front of the computer. coffee with cream, no food.
digesting food requires energy and makes one sleepy.

Q: DO YOU HAVE WRITING ROUTINES, OR DO YOU AVOID THEM?

A: no. routines are necessary. writing is a habit. a vice.

Q: DO YOU EDIT AS YOU GO?

A: never, ever. just spew it all onto the page. the more flawed and
outrageous, the better. there's always time later to organize and
edit. in fact, rewriting is the real work of writing. i may rewrite a
single page 60 times. but that comes later. after i've got, say, 400
pages of messy, senseless bile.

the only thing necessary is to spell check at morning's end, after
you've spewed. otherwise, you'll forget what you meant to say when you
wrote "trghdllty ghyry tkissk"

Q: DO YOU WORK FROM NOTES?

A: yes. i write down everything as it occurs to me, or as i witness it. i slap it into files
on my desktop. i generally have 3 or 4 books cooking at once. the
strongest one will emerge in time. DIALOGUE is the most important
thing, i believe, it’s the engine of a book. inner dialogue or
caught-from-the-air dialogue. eudora welty knew this, updike knew
this. dialogue, if you overhear it or say it , must be captured word perfect
immediately. dialogue is never rewritten; dialogue is only cut or filled
in to capture meaning or further the plot. if i’m in a meeting and the
dialogue is fantastically perverse, i'll write down everything everyone
is saying. it's priceless; the best opportunities are always agency- wide
meetings or "brainstorm" meetings. really, all organized meetings are breeding
grounds for perverse and often hilarious dialogue. i also use dialogue
from my own emails... write
to a close friend and in the process you discover what you know or
feel about an issue or event. some meat of my books comes from emails
or phone conversations or meetings, and then i write the book AROUND
the dialogue; i include body language and gestures, the smaller the better. you must use what you know.
writers: we're vampires and grave robbers, is what we are. "journalists of
the human condition" is a nicer way to put it.

Q: WHAT ABOUT OUTLINES?

A: never, ever, ever. that presumes i know what will happen or what is
best at the beginning of the process, which i don’t. what i know is
nothing, except the subject matter of the book. it's best to retain
that innocence as long as possible. it's easier for me to deliver a
manuscript than an outline. even the word Outline smacks of fascism.

Q: WHAT ABOUT INDEX CARDS, ALA ANNIE LAMOTT?

A: sure. keep some around. always carry a pen and some paper of some
kind. ALWAYS. in the car is especially important. while driving, the
body is occupied and creative thoughts are free to roam exactly where
they should. keep a pen at hand, write things down at the red lights, or pull
over. never attempt to talk into a small hand held tape recorder: again, fascism and
pretense lives there, in those little machines: you will never transcribe them and if
you do, you've lost the gist. it’s blather and a lot of pipe dreams spoken aloud. it's
gaseous babble of the pissant.

Q: WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS FROM WRITING COME FROM?

A: i only write about what i know, what happens, and
what is making us live or die in the era we're currently in. i'd like
to be another kind of writer, but I’m not. if you're like me..and i desperately hope you're not, you have to know what kind of
writer you are; are you a storyteller, or are you a chronicler? decide.



And my questions:



1) For whom did you write this book? (You already told me, and it's written in your dedication, but I want that in the interview, because I love your answer, and don't hold back!)

When my husband left me and I was caring for our baby, I felt totally alone and depressed and there was NOTHING TO READ about divorce that would lift me or make me laugh. (There were only clinical, dry self-help books and impossibly silly novels about divorce, where the heroine is swept away by her Portuguese gardener, etc. It wouldn’t do). I decided within 2 weeks I would write Split: A Memoir of Divorce for all the abandoned wives and mothers, because it was a necessary tool for them to survive. And I’ve gotten a lot of mail from women who say I accomplished this, that it saved them. It’s a tremendous honor.

2) The raw honesty and pain in the book, is so noteworthy because so many books lack that. Was writing the book cathartic, re-traumatizing, or a mix of both?

It was mildly cathartic but it was much more work than anything else. I wrote the entire book as a novel and then was asked to rewrite it as a memoir. It was a long process and yes – many days writing the memoir felt like going back into a dark cave and excavating the past and then coming out feeling traumatize, ridiculous and spent.

3) Sorry, but I got to have you weigh in on the "memoir debate." What's your philosophy of what to tell, what to leave out, and "subjective truth?"

My philosophy is that you own your experience, as a writer. I left a great deal out of my memoir so as not rock the boat more than I had to in order to tell my story with emotional honesty. As far as I’m concerned, all truth is subjective where writing and even remembering are concerned. The moment you try to pin an experience down on paper, it becomes fiction, because you’re only telling your side of things and some of that will necessarily be subjective. Also, once a memoir is accepted for publication, the publisher’s lawyer will usually legally vet the entire manuscript, to avoid issues of slander and liable.

4) And in that same vein, do you wish you could go back and re-classify your first two books, Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles "memoir," and/or Split as fiction? Having written both ways, which do you recommend?

Oh I much prefer fiction. One has so much more leeway with fiction, and there is no second-guessing involved. Otherwise Engaged contains a lot of fiction, it is primarily fiction, and based on my emotional truth of that year I was engaged. But apparently in terms of the prose and the dialogue, I wrote it so well/close to the bone, that everyone assumes it’s completely autobiographical. It is not. Nor is The Zygote Chronicles a memoir. It’s a novel about a woman who happens to be having a baby close to forty, as was I. There are some autobiographical elements, certainly. But the only “true” part is the delivery scene at the end of the novel – that was pretty much exactly how it happened for the birth of my son.

5) How did you decide to structure the book around the Five Stages of Grief, and do you find yourself still moving back, in and around all five, or are you pretty much staunchly placed in Acceptance?


My friend and mentor, Fay Weldon, told me that divorce is certainly like a death. That’s when I decided to section off the book into 5 chapters corresponding to the Kubler Ross Five stages of loss and death. It also gave the book some structure. And the arc of the 5 chapters/stages happily suggests the fact that divorce is a multi-stage process that passes… that its attendant grief and trauma is finite and can be quantified.

I’ve been blessed with Acceptance for many years, now. I talk to my ex almost daily; we’re good friends. And as far as romance, I’ve moved on. Boy have I.


5) In your Anger section you say you'll never marry again - still feel that way?

Of course not. That why it’s in the Anger section. People think and decide all sorts of radical things when they’re angry. It passes.

6) What's the one piece of advice you give to women in the grieving process - regardless of what they're grieving?

Find a grief counselor. I found a great one; she’s in Split and so is her advice to me. So if you read Split, you’ll get all the advice I paid $100/hour for, and you can get it in your bathrobe.

7) I know you said earlier that you are always and never working on other books, like four. I get that. Can you just give us a hint what you think your next (published) book will likely be about?

The Little Black Book Of Signals:
A Neanderthal's Guide To Knowing She Wants You

It’s a guide for men who have no clue as to the signals women send out, Also, women can read it and see what their signals are telling men, A hand-sized book.
After that? A novel about finding love after 40—via the Internet and so on. The heroine will be a cross between a Cyclop and Pollyanna.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Find Love, Abandon Standards


Picture at right, is Augusten Burroughs. Pictured below are my parents on their wedding day in 1956 (see bookjacket). This was a great day; I wanted to make it into a fine, ironic dustjacket for my divorce memoir, but Fate and PenguinUSA would have none of it. Fourteen years later they were divorced. They went on to marry a total of three other people and they never stopped loving each other; divorce is a tight cornered game without explicit rules.)

I grudgingly admit that for the kind of attendance and service I desire, marriage is the only game in town. I want to learn about true commitment and connections. I honestly do. I think most men are full of grace and heart, beneath their hard, shiny armor. I think love fills their workman's boots, I think it seeps from their lock-box hearts into the atmosphere as they sleep.




So I asked Augusten Burroughs, a fiercely candid man who is happily coupled and also gay, which gives him an objectiveness impossible to find elsewhere. I pry hard for valuable, insider trading tips. Here are his edicts on mating, fresh from the information highway.

Re: Standards
BWABEE, STANDARDS get in the way of finding TRUE LOVE. Because you know what? The man who is RIGHT for you is going to look nothing like what you imagine. I, for example, always knew I would end up with an Iranian physician -somebody with chiseled, masculine features, a 5 o'clock shadow that began to appear at noon; a man who wore Armani suits and just reeked of brilliance and utter competence. Somebody who would surprise me with a gold Rolex Daytona just "because it's Tuesday and I love you."

Instead, I landed a guy who, the year before last, gave me shampoo for my birthday. And who has no interest in physics or cosmology and no matter HOW MUCH I SCREAM AT HIM or try to explain it WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND these things which matter most to me. But? he cooks. If somebody is mean to me he withdraws a meat cleaver from his back pocket. And even though he's about as romantic as a shoebox, he's perfect for me. And he's ten years older. I mean, when he's sixty? I'll be ONLY 50. So no, throw all your expectations and lists and MUST-HAVES directly into the trash and start over.

Here are the ONLY requirements:

1. Must have own source of income.
2. Must not be a criminal
3. Must not be married
4. NEED not be handsome but you MUST find him attractive, more so on each date.
5. Reads
6. Is patient, non judgemental and has no history of mental illness -especially manic depression, chronic depression, treatment-resistant depression or any other fucking flavor of incurable depression.

and that's really it.

AB

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Tower: A Bad Sign That Appeared in My Gmail Inbox and Resonated


"The Tower card suggests that your alter ego today is the Survivor, whose superpower for revolution lies in your epiphany for change, brought on with the aid of a serious reality check. Today you have reached a turning point. It may be all over but the crying -- but you have the strength to move on and create a better situation for yourself. One may say that you never saw it coming or learned the hard way, but with profound change comes new opportunity. One door closes -- another opens. So tear down the wall, and rebuild anew!" In other words: you will lose everything, every fucking dime and teaspoon, but find the pair of hoop earrings you lost in college. Your face is falling but not so fast that it can be detected by overnight time lapse photography...rejoice, for you are not worm food yet, but a rather splayed yet vertical person who rarely has an occasion for shoes. Debbils will very likely dance and sing as the door to Bitch Hell swings wide for you. Don't make any long-term plans, just dig the free fall. We'll be letting you know if it's going to end badly by sending the Death card to your email inbox within the next seven days, babe.

What Fay Weldon Knows About Men


What I know about men
Fay Weldon, writer, 78, married for the third time, four sons
Interview by Eva Wiseman
The Observer / Sunday 8 March 2009

When I was five my parents divorced, so at home there was just my mother, my grandmother, my sister and me. I went to an all-girls school and I lived in a male-free world. All this femaleness moulded me. I assumed women ruled the world, and even when I got to college and discovered otherwise, men still seemed romantic rarities, rich, exciting and strange, a feeling I've never quite recovered from. Back then fathers didn't have much to do with their daughters anyway - it was women who brought the children up. Now the genders have blurred, but in a world of domestic slavery, before washing machines, vacuum cleaners, central heating, microwaves, and when potatoes took more than an hour to cook, home was where the women had to be. Men left the house to earn, work, go to patriotic wars, come back heroes. Boys and girls were kept apart. We went in one school entrance, they went in another. We might as well have been Muslims. Girls weren't sexualised the way they are today. We wore gym slips and were discouraged from looking in mirrors. So I had very little to do with boys. Mainly I just fell in love with girls. There was no eroticism there, just obsession and adoration. We were so innocent.
So of course when I got a grant to go to university, I fell in love with every man in sight. My ambition, quickly realised, was to lose my virginity as soon as possible. Many of the students were ex-servicemen who'd been to war: it seemed ill-mannered to thwart them. The idea that men had emotions the same as women never occurred to me. That a man could be hurt or upset by something I did, or feel rejected or humiliated? Surely not! I would fall hopelessly in love with impossible men, but if men fell in love with me, how I would despise them! A good therapist would have sorted me out, but there were no therapists. And no contraception, so sex was thrilling and dangerous.
I got pregnant when I was 22, when it really wasn't the thing to do. I thought I could manage, and didn't marry my baby's father because I didn't think we were suited. But things got more and more difficult until in order to keep a roof over the baby's head I married a man 25 years older than me, with a house and an income. Of course I didn't love him, but it was a fair trade - I needed the security and he needed a wife. It didn't last long.
Monogamy is nice work if you can get it, but who can, in these days of serial partners? Patterns of living change. There's no way one can say that way was more desirable than this. Falling in love is a kind of madness, which you don't even recognise until you wake from the delightful dream. Or he meets someone else. Heartbreak is the other side of love's exhilaration. The sense of rejection is overwhelming. But it's all part of the natural selection process. The only cure for one man is another. You keep on searching for love until something sticks. And I would suppose that I'm there now, stuck.
Today's young women do seem to want men to be made in their image, and spurn them if they're not, but girls are for chattering, men are for grunting. That's what they do. They're a different species. Women can only be happy for 10 minutes at a time, while men can stay happy for the duration of a whole football match. Some people, either gender, are just born better at being happy than others. Men like reassurance and love and flattery, but mostly what makes men happy is sex and dinner.
• In Bed With (Little, Brown, £7.99), a collection of erotic stories, includes a contribution from Fay Weldon.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I Am In My Happy Place


The Sun card suggests that my alter ego is the Golden Child, whose superpower for celebration lies in expressing my love, joy and pride. I will be happy today, reclining in a jetlagged stupor on the deck, reflecting on the simple joys in life and my glory days, including the bottle of white Bordeaux Kate Christensen thrust upon me at Balthazar only hours ago in Manhatten. It's all good! You are in your happy place -- shining brightly for all to see. It may seem too good to be true, but don't worry and enjoy the experience while it lasts. Karma and a cruel God will doubtless lower the cosmic boom shortly.

Word.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Barnes and Noble Discovery Award for 2008 Just Went Down, Yall


Dateline: March 4, 2009.

I JUST gave a speech at the Barnes and Noble event when I awarded the grand prize
for fiction to Gin Phillips, author of The Well and the Mine. She’s
from Alabama. No more than 30 years old. SHOCKING. A NATURAL.

FIRST I said that I didn’t have a written speech and that didn’t
believe in them. Which is true; I just talk into the microphone and
see what truths float up.

I read the first sentence from the book, which says that Tess has just
seen a woman throw a baby down the well.

I said, Not only did the author put
Chekhov’s rifle over the mantle, she FIRED it in the first sentence of
the book. Who does that?
I asked. NO ONE.

After a pause, I said that the jurors and I had had a fist fight over the
winner but in the end I prevailed because they had BOTH used the word LOVE
in ALL CAPS when they emailed me about her book. Which they had. And I
said, SO. That’s how it went down, butter bean.

Then I said that all her characters were real people and that the town
exists, the coalmines exist, and the baby is in that fucking well.
And I named every character from the book. Then I softly sang a chorus
from the Union song
from the Depression (it's in her book). Then I said that I was not a
good enough writer to judge Gin Phillips, and that my books weren’t fit
to be embossed on Bounty paper towels.

I quoted how Updike said that you had to write 300 pages to be taken
seriously and 500 to win an award. Gin Phillips is the exception that
proves the rule
.

Then I said that I was really still VERY sad that john Updike had died
and that I missed him terribly.
I asked if anyone else missed john Updike, RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU DO
I said. A few people raised their hands. COME ON, GET EM UP THERE, I
said.

A few more people in suits raised their hands.

And I got straight back around to the author, Gin Phillips. I said she was
obviously a liar because this could not be anyone’s first book. I
asked about her secret life in Mumbai. WHERE ARE THE OTHER BOOKS? I
demanded to know. Who are you REALLY?

Then I read snatches from her book. I channeled Eudora Welty. I pulled ALL THE STOPS. Ms Phillips was openly weeping by the time I said that Harper Lee has met her match.

Afterward I talked to David Sheff, a lovely man who won for BEAUTIFUL
BOY. I was delighted to hear that his equally talented son, Nic Sheff, is doing great and working on a novel, now. David Sheff and I live in the same county. During his acceptance speech he quoted Obama on how to fight druigs through healthcare reform and not through law enforcement. Yay.

My agent Kim and i met for coffee
this morning and read her the 3 pages I have from my next book. Kim was SUPER
EXCITED. Which for Kim means she said, Yes, paperback, moleskin jacket,
deadline of March 31.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Even The Greats Have No Pleasure In It




Colm Tóibín: No Pleasure in Writing.

With a touch of Irish gloom perhaps, but without self pity, Colm
Tóibín tells the Manchester Review that he writes at least 355 days a
year and says -- three different times -- that he takes no pleasure in
it.

Oh there’s no pleasure. Except that I don’t have to work for anyone
who bullies me. I write with a sort of grim determination to deal with
things that are hidden and difficult and this means, I think, that
pleasure is out of the question. I would associate this with
narcissism anyway and I would disapprove of it.

...

Which of your books did you most enjoy writing?

No enjoyment. No, none.

If there’s no pleasure in it, why not quit?

Because I have things that will not go away. Some of them are true,
some slowly become imagined. They do not disappear just because I
write them. If I don’t write them, I find that suddenly I am writing
them. They make their way into sentences and I feel a need to finish
what I began, to formalise it and then publicise it. I emphasise that
it heals nothing. Quitting would be like deciding never to listen to
music again. It would be mad, unnecessary. I also have sought fame as
a novelist – the phrase is V.S. Naipaul’s - and I presume that the
urge for that is essentially neurotic. I don’t think we have a right
to enjoy our neuroses; in fact I believe that we have a duty not to.
But we cannot walk away from ourselves. Who else is there to become?

Friday, February 13, 2009

In Hell, Every Day Is Your Birthday



On Turning 40

Editor's Note: This essay was previously published in Redbook a few years ago.

Coco Chanel claimed that Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. This says nothing of forty, an age which has yet to be defined, except by the hair dye companies, who quite understandably think forty is the best darned age of all. This leaves a large informational gap, one which I will attempt to fill in with the least amount of fractious and impossible-to-follow advice. (At forty, one does not need advice, one needs cash.)

I turned forty this year. I had no choice, having turned thirty-nine the previous year. There was no bravery involved, as some of the hardy congratulations I received implied. Nor was it particularly difficult; I just went to bed and the next day, Boom. It had happened without me. I felt shocked. Thirty-nine was an age I had instantly disliked but now felt myself longing for, like a lover I'd jilted, but now realized was perfect for me -- and he didn’t wait, has moved on to another town, to children and a wife somewhere else; I can’t get him back any more than I could (beat) turn back time. The very moment I turned forty I realized thirty-nine was infancy, heaven. This is a pattern I seem to be repeating since 1992. I vow to give it up, to start feeling good about the age I am because in five minutes? It is going to change again, and frankly I can’t sanction all the upset.

Advertising, although I am sure has the very best intentions, does not help. We can easily bring to mind those shiny ads with willowy actresses braying that life begins at forty, but for most of them plastic surgery began at twenty six and so they can afford to be glib. These are genetically mutant spokeswomen in white bikinis with access to constant photo retouching and trainers named Ghee and pharmaceutical grade cocaine; they are women who look nineteen at forty and who also are successful and toned and married to South American movie stars, so they cannot and must not be considered as part of the physical world the rest of us live in. After seeing a four page spread for a cosmetic ad in W, I mention this on the telephone to my best friend Dee, who agrees. And after a moment she adds that Michelle Pffiefer has had work done, and why don’t we just all admit it and move on.

Dee also turned forty this year, or as Bette Davis said so eloquently in All About Eve, “Four – oh.”. I confided that I was compiling notes on an article on forty, and Dee immediately said,

“You know what I miss?” Dee says. “Luster.”

At forty moisture is not an entitlement but a goal, we commiserate. Just moisture.

We have no love of knives, however. Dee and I have a pact that rather than become those woman who perpetually look like startled raccoon and who are constantly having facelifts and fillers and Botox and chemical peels, we would rather just hold hands and walk into the blades of a helicopter. We vow to age gracefully and not get cut, although we have no idea how this is actually done. We will have to wing it.

“I watched Kate Hudson on 20/20 last night.” Dee says. “And all I could do was stare at her skin. She still has luster.”

“She’s twenty-two,” I say.

“They all are,” Dee says briskly. “There are times when I look at a photo of myself.” she says, “and I think there might be luster and then I realize it’s the gloss of the photo.” She explains: “I didn’t got matte finish, I got glossy finish. And of course now I’ll always get glossy…. because I need the luster.”

We discuss the phenomenon of the Good Picture after 40. For example, there’s a recent picture of some friends and I, and it’s not that great of a picture of anyone else, in fact my son looks like a small Middle East terrorist, but it’s pretty good of me. So it’s up on the refrigerator. I look like I have luster. (Film overexposure is not a problem, it is your best friend, according to Dee. Blows your features into a white splay of smooth airbrushed luster.) We agree that instead of hair gloss we need body gloss. We’re mothers and busy people, we need to just dip our whole bodies in gloss. Like on The Jetsons; there should be a machine.

Being able to enjoy a photograph of myself at all is I something that has come to me relatively late in life. At 15, I desperately wished I were petite. As a large-boned 5’8” teenager with breasts that required a bra, I felt monstrous, bovine. I wanted to be diminutive, I wanted to shop in the Petite section of Macy’s and wear size five shoes and have boys be able to pick me up and twirl me like a baton. My mental illness progressed. At 23, I ached to be Jennifer Beal in Flashdance , bony and wan and sultry as an alley cat. To this end, I skulked around in ripped tops and leg warmers, hoping against hope that an alien body transfer would somehow take place, a metamorphosis of the veneer. At 40, I now accept the fact that I am a voluptuous brunette with olive skin, I even prefer it this way. I like the fact that I have long legs, broad shoulders, and that when the sun hits my hair it looks like coffee. I would not trade selves with anyone, now. Too many variables. I would however like to go back in time and bitch slap myself, saying You’re fine! Be happy, for God’s sake.

Things have changed, mostly for the better. I no longer feel bad that I cannot do a pirouette or draw hands. I am able to sing in front of people, something I could not do at thirty. Having a child has also mellowed me, set straight my priorities. I don’t feel the need to run five miles a day in the heat, wear eyeliner or even shoes. This may be the beginning of the regression that often happens to the elderly; if so I welcome it. I will end up around four years of age, which seems just about right. My son and I will be four together, blowing bubbles while Rome burns, while others curl free weights and compete for the title of Miss California.

One tiny and admittedly disquieting phenomena is that suddenly, nearly everyone I deal with is younger than I am -- especially people in New York. I was recently interviewed for an author profile by a woman who sounded just exactly like Tinky Winky. And it’s not just New York, it’s hideously widespread. Young people are everywhere, they’re parachuting straight in from high schools in the sky. Having skipped second grade, I had grown accustomed to being younger than everyone else; now the reverse is true. When did that happen? I don’t mind children, what I mind are children in the bodies of adults. (Here I would suggest that if it is at all convenient, you may want to marry someone a few years older, as I did: No matter what happens, you will always be younger than someone, and they will often be in the same room with you.)

Forty equals knowledge, and knowledge equals power. I know the intricate rhythms of my own body, now. I know that a week before my period I need to take a hot Epson Salt bath with a fudgesickle in hand, and not answer the phone. I know that during this week, my clothes will feel significantly tighter -- I don’t take this as a sign from God that I am worthless. I know it will pass, and that my clothes will loosen within a week. I know most things will pass, that almost everything is just a moment in time. I realize the good moments are precious, I no longer try to sustain them into infinity and wreck what spontaneity has visited me. I am able to watch the tide come in and out without feeling somehow I can control it, or that it is there for me exclusively. A feeling of community flavors my life; I talk to waiters and women in supermarket lines and strange dogs. I am no longer so firmly locked into my own suspense-filled mini drama. I extend myself to others in ways I would not have dreamt of at thirty, when protecting my privacy seemed crucial, when all other adults loomed, somehow frightening and better than I. No one is better than I, I know now. Or everyone is. I’m not sure which.

I recently had a few spider veins on my face zapped with a hot needle of some sort. “Does this hurt?” the dermatologist asked pleasantly. “It doesn’t feel good,” I said. “But after childbirth…it’s a caress.” He laughed the laugh of someone who never has to worry about either. It was a happy, vague laugh. (Men needn't fret about spider veins or turning forty, they hardly need turn a hair at eighty - even then they can father children, they just can’t necessarily lift or recognize them. No one said life was fair.) Examining the multitudinous brochures in my dermatologist’s office, I see that there is also a new cosmetic procedure that severs the nerves around the eyes so that when you smile, you don’t smile all the way, thereby minimizing crow’s feet. I’m sorry but this feels like kicking God in the balls. I just can’t bring myself to do it, no matter how bad of a day I might currently be having, no matter how much luster I am losing at the speed of sound.

In the end, surely the salient benefit to turning forty is that one no longer has to tolerate bullshit in any form. This kicks in immediately. On the morning of my fortieth birthday a woman I had hitherto considered a friend telephoned and immediately said, “You’re over the hill, now!” I laughed gaily and hung up on her; the receiver made satisfying click as it hit the cradle. After forty, one must cleanse one’s life of anyone who suggests that moving past extreme youth is an error, a character flaw. One must deep-cleanse, and I do not mean pores.

Once more I reference Coco Chanel: “Elegance is refusal.”




.