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, - 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.