I don’t understand why deciding not to have kids has to be so fucking controversial. Like, fuck off. I decide when/if/how I have kids, not you.
You and your dark eyes and rough hands, the hands you raked through my hair while you searched for the best of me …
You. The haunting body frame I saw in the shadows of every dream. I couldn’t sleep. And life, it felt like one big nightmare. A long movie that would never pause—too long to fit on one tape; flip the VHS over to see the end, the end I never saw coming until it stared me in the face.
Did I overcome you? Or are you just waiting, hiding behind an alleyway, driving behind me on a late summer night, ready to whisper in my ear one more time? Just one more time, and then you’re free.
I carry you with me, like a sack holding a dead body. Dead weight. But you’re alive. Your heart, it beats so anxiously somewhere far away. And I spent too many nights kneeling bedside praying I’d read in the next morning’s paper that you had dropped dead, were hit in the head, were caught by my father and his goons on your way home from the usual 9-5, blood spilling from your head for your parents to find at the doorstep. Like a dog, rabid and killed after an attack on a young child. Me.
For a while, I cried over the fact that you were, in fact, still alive. I wailed and wagged my finger up at whoever watches over us in the sky because you weren’t dead. But now, a year and a half later, I smile that you’re still alive. I’d never wish what happened to me on anyone, that’s what I normally say, but I save my curse for the child birthed by the woman you will love and marry one day. I hope she hurts. I hope she cries. I hope she calls you, choked up and breathless, and has to tell you detail by detail—he touched me here, he forced my head down, he held me, I cried, he hurt me Daddy—just like I had to tell my father on the day I broke his heart.
We all have a purpose for living. Mine, I’m still trying to figure out. But you? I’ve got your number. You’re still here because you haven’t hurt enough yet. I know I was responsible for the scars on my wrist, pink and deep and oozing. But your name has been etched into me for all of eternity, a scar I can’t rid myself of, and for that, I hate you. And I hope you live to 100, perhaps 102, to a year of confusion and shit in your pants in a dirty nursing home. With a scarred daughter, with a poetry book and a broken heart, maybe even a scarred mind like mine, standing there over your bedside, holding her nose as your perfect caramel skin rots and reeks.
And I’ll die with an everlasting memory of your strong cologne, embedded in my nasal cavity; driving me to madness.
- All my love (after all, it’s all I ever gave,
and who am I to sign by any other name but Alice, too curious to turn away)
If perhaps one day
you find yourself
on the way home at
3am, body soaked with
rain, the scent of a man
you barely know on your skin.
If maybe you had a shot too
many and your judgement became a
fog you could not feel your
If one night you find yourself
pushed against a wall, the
lipstick you carefully applied
smudged, Your back an ocean
of sweat his hands control the
If for some reason, the moon is
full and you become the tide. If
he is the moon, If you thought
you knew your waters better than
If he kisses you into fog. If his
sweat is a pool you cannot rinse off,
even in the rain.
If you become breath
become less beautiful.
If your phone does not ring.
If you lay in bed all day
If your body is a song whose
words belong to someone else.
If he is a song and you are the
instrument. If the flute of you
knows only the breath of a man
who will not call you again.
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are tide
You are flute
and you are breath.
you are song.
Soon, his scent will be
a wisp of smoke from an extinguished
Your tea is still mint without him.
Your hands just as soft. Eyes just
as brown as your mother’s, still.
- Kid wearing a Batman shirt: *standing in the middle of the aisle and sees me, places his fists on his hips and looks at me* Batwoman.
- Me, also wearing a Batman shirt: Batman.
- Kid: Are you keeping Gotham safe?
- Me: Yes. Have you captured the Joker?
- Kid: Not yet, but soon. Keep up the good work. *he spins around quickly and runs the other direction*
Suck. It. Republicans.
This lecture was delivered at the Trampoline Hall lecture series in New York on March 22, 2006. Two other people spoke as well. The event doubled as the launch for Ticknor. The speech was later reprinted in Brick magazine.
I wonder why I am up here on this stage when I’d rather be at home, when being at home would be so much more comforting. And I wonder why all of you are sitting there in the audience, when so many of you would also be happier at home.
At home, you can wear your pyjamas. No one is going to snub you or disappoint you. At Trampoline Hall, you could be snubbed, or disappointed. The scotch is not cheap. It is less depressing to think the same thoughts you thought yesterday, than to have the same conversation you had last week. Few of us will get laid. Why did we go out? My father never goes out. His emotional life is absolutely even keel. He is a deeply rational person. He doesn’t see the advantages.
For many years I have asked myself, Why do you spend time with other people? but I never really attempted to come up with an answer. I always believed I was asking myself a rhetorical question, but this week I thought I would try and find an answer, because a question you ask yourself a thousand times eventually deserves to be answered.
And I figure if I know why I go out, I might feel less suspicious of myself for going out. I might criticize myself less. I might be able to look around a party without thinking, What a fool – why did you come – you should have stayed at home.
The first thing I did in my search for an answer to “why go out” was write down a list of every single reason I could think of to go out – there were about twelve – and then I noticed, after staring at the paper, that those smaller reasons could be divided up into four major reasons for leaving the house:
1. Desire (for sex, love, companionship, whatever).2. Sociological curiosity / aesthetic appreciation.3. To test ourselves.4. Someone else wants to hang out.
A couple of years ago I quit smoking, and to help myself along, I read a book called Alan Carr’s Easyway To Quit Smoking. (‘Easyway’ is written as one word and has a little R beside it, meaning it’s a registered trademark. Despite those two details, it is a really excellent book, and I highly recommend it.)
Now, Alan Carr’s basic premise is twofold:
First: you have to accept that smoking is not a habit, it is a drug addiction; andSecond: the only way to quit smoking is to never have a cigarette again.
He goes on to explain that every smoker has brainwashed themselves into believing that smoking helps them in some way – calms them down, allows them to focus, makes an event feel more celebratory – when the truth is, all smoking a cigarette does is temporarily satisfy the craving for a cigarette, while reintroducing into your body the very substance you will once again crave.
What the smoker needs to do to quit, is undo the brainwashing that cigarettes help them in any way, then suffer several weeks of physical withdrawal – a feeling he likens to a physical longing, but not unbearable – and then never have another cigarette again. Oh, and a positive frame of mind is essential. When you experience a craving, you’re to take this as a sign your body is transforming into the body of a non-smoker, and you should cheer, “Yippee! I’m free!”
Well, I followed his advice, and it worked.
The other day, I was sitting alone in a Mexican restaurant and wondering whether it is possible to quit people, and good old Alan Carr came to mind. It’s maybe because I recently ended a relationship, and also have not been spending much time in my city, and my body has been experiencing very similar sensations as it did when I gave up cigarettes two years ago; it’s a physical ache that comes and goes, that’s almost painful, a sort of gaping emptiness, a void that needs to be filled. It often seems like the only way to cure myself of this craving is to give in – to return to him, to sleep with someone new… Not until you tear yourself from everyone you love does it appear that you are actually physicallyaddicted to people. The longing for a person is almost identical to the longing for a smoke. It’s weird.
Anyway, I am not a stoic. My response to withdrawal – which has been to flee into semi-soothing rebound relationships – has prevented me from being able to stand before you today and declare with confidence that it is possible to renounce people, to bear the weeks of physical withdrawl symptoms, and thereafter attain the qualities that Alan Carr claims the non-smoker is in possession of: “health, energy, wealth, peace of mind, confidence, courage, self-respect, happiness and freedom.”
But though it wasn’t recent, I have spent time alone in the past, and in my memories of these times – the happiest times of my life – I really did seem possessed of substantially more courage, confidence, self-respect, freedom, energy, and peace of mind, than those times when I’ve surrounded myself with people.
And if that’s the truth, and my memory’s not lying – why go out?
Alan Carr advises smokers who are considering quitting to put the following three questions to themselves, and I think we can also ponder them as we consider whether it is worthwhile to try and be cured of our addiction to people. As the smoker considers smoking, we ask of socializing:
1. What is it doing for me?2. Do I actually enjoy it?3. Do I really need to go through life paying through the nose just to stick these things in my mouth and suffocate myself?
1. What is it actually doing for me?
As I suggested earlier, we get together with people to satisfy desires – the desire to love and be loved, the desire for sex, talk, companionship, good times, all those things. To which Alan Carr might retort: “We talk about smoking being relaxing or giving satisfaction. But how can you be satisfied unless you were dissatisfied in the first place?
And truly, who has ever been satisfied by people?
A few weeks ago, for instance, I was deeply insulted by a conceptual poet who lives in your town, who had come to my town to do a reading. I admire his work, so I went – knowing as I left my apartment that I was risking my admiration for him – “What if he is an asshole?” I asked myself, closing the door. “Never mind,” I replied, turning the key, for my curiosity surpassed my fear.
Arriving at the bar that night, I spotted a small man of nearly forty years old, wearing an ostentatious suit and hat, walking about the room like he had a cock the size of Kansas. “He must be the conceptual poet,” I said to myself, and I was right. I begged not to be introduced, but my friend introduced us anyway, calling me, as she did so, a “novelist.” I told him how much I admired a particular book of his, and when I was done, he sort of looked me over and said, “You’re a novelist? Really? What interest could you possibly have in my work?”
… … … In case you missed it, that was the terrible insult.
Of course, telling someone your insult is like telling someone your dream; the specific emotional core of it cannot be communicated; all that comes across are disconnected and meaningless symbols. But let me assure you, this conceptual poet was digging his nails into my heart – he knew it, and, five minutes later, I suddenly felt it, too – which led to a week and a half of fuming in bed, unable to sleep, me declaring this man my enemy, the reconceiving of a magazine article I was writing in such a way as to include a subtextual layer that would annihilate conceptual poetics, a week and a half of going out every night and talking through the insult with each of my friends – what am I even saying? It took leaving the continent for the insult to finally recede into the background of my days, and for me to regain my equilibrium.
But anyway, it is pretty be far-fetched to claim that people provide satisfaction and relaxation. Or at least, if they sometimes do, they as often do not.
Alan Carr’s second question: “Do I actually enjoy it?”
Does anyone actually enjoy more than one party in six? Does sex lead to satisfaction, or merely make us want more sex, better sex, different sex, even as we’re having it? The same goes for conversation, companionship, everything.
No, other people don’t satisfy us, but rather, like cigarettes, give us the temporary illusion of satisfaction, while prolonging our dependence. And if we weren’t dependent on other people?
Alan Carr’s Easyway lists the following psychological gains from quitting:
1. The return of your confidence and courage;2. Freedom from the slavery; 3. Not having to go through life suffering the awful black shadows at the back of your mind, knowing you are being despised by half of the population, and worst of all, despising yourself.
And so, let us for the moment renounce people! Not in the doomed-to-failure way – renouncing while imagining we are depriving ourselves, forever plagued by doubts –
“how long will the craving last?”“will I ever be happy again?“will I ever enjoy a meal again?”“how will I cope with stress in the future?”“will I ever want to get up in the morning?– but rather joyfully and willingly let us renounce people… and bring on self-confidence, courage, energy, peace of mind, and self-respect.
I have a friend who has made it his sort of art project to set up nights at which people amuse themselves in various ways. He has taught charades classes, he has invited the city into a bar to play board games, he has organized a roomful of people to play Torx, which is a child’s toy, a robot stick that issues instructions on how to bend it. He has been profiled in a local newspaper as someone who is providing fun alternatives to concerts and bars and house parties, which, of course, are old-fashioned and worn-out. But I know him well enough to know that he doesn’t much care whether Nadia or Jim are getting enough fun in their lives. What my friend is up to, I believe, is something more sinister.
First, a few details to paint the scene:
1. His calls his games night ‘Room 101.” The event is held in a bar and people eat cheesies from bowls and play Scrabble and Pictionary and other games at small tables, and every twenty minutes or so he get up at the front of the room on a little stage and rings a bell and forces only those people who seem to be enjoying their game overly much to terminate the game and disperse and play something else. If he had peoples’ fun in mind, I contend that he would not force those who are having the most fun to abandon their game.
2. His promotional poster for these nights show a boy playing Monopoly with two rats. Also, if you look closely, you can see there are little bars on the window. He took the name ‘Room 101’ from the book 1984; it refers to the room in which they torture people, and it turns out his secret motto for these games nights is: “We torture you with fun!” Which might be the motto of every party ever.
Finally: His charades class was not called “How to play charades” or “How to have fun playing charades,” but rather: “How to be good at playing charades.” And his introductory talk to the event only cursorily involved which hand signals to use when; mostly he talked about what he called “charades skills” – like, how being good at charades is about being a good communicator, and a good listener, and requires imagination, and sympathy, and understanding – all of which are, more truly than charades skills, life skills.
And so his students or audience or whatever you’d call them – if they’re no good at playing charades – can only assume one thing. Since the terms for “goodness” were laid out very clearly at the beginning of class, if you’re not good at playing charades, you are forced to conclude that it’s not because you don’t know the hand gestures, it’s not because you’re not a good actor, but rather it’s because you can’t listen, or you’re not sympathetic, or you don’t have sufficient (as he put it at the beginning of class) “intellectual-analytical skills, motor-expressive skills, creative skills, and emotional-inter-personal skills.” The secret lesson of his charades class is: if you’re not good at being a charades player, maybe it’s actually because you’re not an entirely good at being a person. This is called being tortured with fun.
Yes. I’ve come to the conclusion that what my friend is trying to do is organize events that capture and crystallize and reproduce the effects of ordinary socializing – which is not quite about fun, or about learning how to be good at having fun, but, more distinctly, about learning how to be good at being a person, and, the unfortunate corollary of this, seeing how far from good at being a person you are.
Why go out? Because if what we want more than anything is to attain self-confidence, health, energy, and peace of mind, we should stay in. We could be like little Buddhas, meditating and masturbating and watching TV. And we could imagine ourselves to be brilliant, and kind, and good lecturers, and good listeners, and utterly loving – and there’d be no way to prove it otherwise.
One final story: For the first six months of 2005 I lived alone in Montreal; I went because I was overwhelmed and I picked Montreal because I had no friends there, and for the first few weeks all I experienced were pangs of withdrawal for everyone I loved. It was awful and all-consuming… and then it passed. And once it passed, I was in heaven. There I sat in my lovely, cheap apartment – no distractions, no email, surrounded by books. There was a grocery store across the street. The mountain was two blocks away, and I could climb it whenever I wanted. Self-confidence, health, happiness, the equanimity of the non-smoker – all were mine.
And then… I destroyed it. I met someone and then another person and before I knew it, all of the chaos of life came back, along with all my self-doubt and anxiety and fear.
But perhaps that’s what it’s for – self-confidence and courage and energy and peace – perhaps it’s to be used in the world. Perhaps there’s only one thing to do with it: spend it.
I’m always super-conscious of how whenever I go out into the world, whenever I get involved in a relationship, my idea of who I think I am utterly collides with the reality of who I actually am. And I continue to go out even though who I am always comes up short. I always prove myself to be less generous, less charming, less considerate, not as bold or energetic or intelligent or courageous as I imagined in my solitude. And I’m always being insulted, or snubbed, or disappointed. And I’m never in my pyjamas.
And yet, in some way, maybe this is better. Each of us in this room could suffer the pangs of withdrawal and gain the serenity of the non-smoker. We could be demi-gods in our little castles, all alone, but perhaps, at heart, none of us here wants that. Maybe the only cure for self-confidence and courage is humility. Maybe we go out in order tofall short… because we want to learn how to be good at being people… and moreover, because we want to be people.
And so, to return to Alan Carr’s final question to the would-be quitter: “Do I really need to go through life paying through the nose, just to stick these things in my mouth and suffocate myself?”
Yes, Mr. Carr, yes.