Danger: torturous honesty ahead. This post will either kill your soul or make you want to smack me. I hereby apologize to the new subscribers I’ve picked up as a product of my last political post being Freshly Pressed. This post might leave you Freshly Depressed. Orientation: I write about all kinds of stuff, depending on where I am in my head on a given day. Normally I’m much funnier. And I will be again, and it won’t be fake or anything. Don’t feel like you can’t believe my irrepressible wit and snark just because this post exposes one of the reasons I’m witty and snarky in my real life.

End disclaimer.


“What remains of your past if you didn’t allow yourself to feel it in the moment?”

David Rakoff wrote that. He just passed away at the age of 47 – the age he had previously thought he had been born to be. It was the sentiment he used to describe his tendency to avoid intimacy – not the sexual kind, no, the emotional kind – by using humor. It’s how he described the irony of wanting to be known without anyone knowing that which he liked least about himself.

Guardedness is, to some degree, natural. But I’ve always been more guarded than most. I’ve mentioned before that my intention in starting this blog was at least partly to be less guarded and more “out there” with how I feel about things. As is inevitable with me, I turned a lot of it into wry comedy. Well, that’s genuine. That is me. It’s more fun, it’s more appealing, and I tend to laugh at a lot of things in life, or at least employ biting sarcasm. But I haven’t generally allowed myself to be less guarded. I’ve done it in a few posts (to some readers’ alarm). But mostly, I had hit on a formula that made people laugh, that made people comment, that made people hit the “like” button so their shining faces and icons would line up neatly in a row (or two, now that I’ve finally been FP’d) at the bottom of my text. It made people like me. I’m Sally Field, over here.

I am, truly, a pretty twisted sister with a sick sense of humor. In my real life, I tend to be awfully intense if I’m not making jokes. I’m not one of those obnoxious people who is always on and never shuts up, like Robin Williams. You don’t listen to me and immediately think, “She’s covering something up with her humor.” I just happen to be pretty quick with a quip. But yeah, I’m intense if I’m not joking. Like, it’s got the potential to freak people out. My friend Joey once said he thinks I feel things more deeply than most people do. Joey, by the way, is a playwright in New York whose two younger brothers died, less than a year apart, in auto accidents, and whose two stepsisters no longer speak to the family because they’re suing his mother over their late half-brother’s trust, which was bequeathed when their father – Joey’s stepfather – shot himself in the head 11 years ago. Joey is also a recovering alcoholic. And gay. So for him to say I feel things more deeply than most people do… Oy. I didn’t know – still don’t – if that’s true, but I worry that it is. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s a miracle I still have both my ears. (Somewhere, Vincent Van Gogh just cocked his head and said, “What?”)

How do you balance wanting to be just like everyone else with wanting to be unlike anyone else?

Jack ran his Iceland marathon with Gwyneth today. I woke up for no reason at 7:30am and immediately wondered if I were somehow psychically connected to him. What time is it in Reykjavik? I had no idea. Maybe they just finished…?

Why do I care?

When I read the Facebook post about how the run had gone, I bristled as soon as my eyes lit on the word “we.” “We.” Since when do you use that word, Jack? In ten years I don’t think I’ve ever heard you or seen you use that word. You’ve performed linguistic gymnastics- with stunning ease- to avoid using it. Now you’re playing it fast and loose like it’s nothing, like you’ve used it every day about everybody since time immemorial, and you claim it’s completely meaningless. “We finished in 3:31:53, a personal best for Gwyneth in her seven-marathon career.” 

Okay, first of all, you know what? Fuck her personal best. Fuck her seven marathons. Your Facebook friends don’t even know her, except for seven of us who have worked with her. Why should the other 190 even care about how she ran? “We finished in 3:31:53.” You had to cross the finish line together? Why can’t you run your own damned race? You could have finished faster, I know it. You let her slow you down.

So he could be her hero. So he could be there for her. Step by step. “Just running buddies.” We.

It enraged me.

Which makes, by the way, absolutely no logical sense whatsoever. I mean… they were just… running.

And that’s the kind of stuff I generally suppress. I don’t allow myself to feel that kind of senseless anger, or any sort of knee-jerk emotion, without stopping, figuring out why I feel it, and then massaging the less comfortable parts of it away like so much muscle pain. I think it’s the grown-up way to handle one’s proverbial shit. But thanks to Ali Velshi, my new therapist, I’m assigned to try embracing the knee-jerk a little more. Oh, joy. His point: my tendency to suppress my feelings is usually because I want to be “fair” to the person to whom I’m reacting, even when they’re not around. I’m assuming, he says, about 70% of the responsibility for that which is only 50% mine to bear. What about what’s fair to me?

For the record, I didn’t comment on the Facebook post, for two reasons. One: all I could think to say was something nasty and low, and even though I’m supposed to stop caring so much about what’s fair to someone else, I am an adult in my mid-30s and I was still raised not to be a total immature snot. And also because (okay, mostly because) if I had commented, or even clicked “like,” (which herein would become merely a twitch of support rather than an actual tacit approval of all the words Jack had used), I would have been exposed, over and over, to every comment anyone else would make, thereby forcing me to reread the post any number of times to make the stupid red notices on the screen go away, thereby making me bang my head on the desk exactly that many times.

I didn’t cry. I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt. I let myself feel whatever it was without knowing what it was. I bent forward in the shower, stretching my back, letting the hot water sluice over me, my mind a dull, nonspecific ache of getting ready for my day while letting go of a never-defined relationship in which I had loved someone more than I ever had before, trusted him more than I’d ever trusted anyone before, while never quite letting him see all my flaws because I knew they would scare him away.

Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness – a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self, which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair – then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person you’d hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow-barker variation on adorable, even though you’d been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one – well, it conjures up feelings that are best described as mixed, to say the least.

~David Rakoff, “Half Empty”


27 thoughts on “Paradox

  1. Altho’ I’m a new follower of your blog, this failed to scare me off. Spit it out, kid. You remind me of one of my favorite literary figures: Dorothy Parker. You should be familiar with her verse.

    • Wow. What a tremendous compliment. There is no way my likeness and hers should be anywhere near the same sentence. Thank you so much. (I believe, dellasman, that this is the beginning of a beautiful blog friendship.)

  2. I do that, too. That thing where you make it funny because otherwise your authenticity will render the room devoid of oxygen and you will no longer be the only one whose lungs are full of cement. And yet I immediately resent people who are obviously pretending that everything is okay when it is really, clearly not. I’m not in therapy, but I am a writer. I guess that’s a good first step. Thanks for this. Being real is hard.

  3. We have some eery parallels. That’s been one of my new discoveries from therapy too: I go out of my way to make excuses for other people to allow them not to be assholes, even when they are. Somehow, my definition of fair means I need to own more than half the blame and ask myself first what I could’ve done differently to achieve a different outcome, instead of just shrugging and saying, “What a d-ck.” Good luck moving beyond the awareness and finding a more balanced approach.

    And – even when you’re not aiming for humor – your observations and approach still make me smile. Your Van Gogh comment made me laugh; I did an eye roll when he claimed a single time for the both of them (lame-o); and your observation about no one giving a shit about her in his FB post other than the seven people who’d worked with her? Spot on.

    • We are officially separated at birth. I almost never do the “what a dick” thing because I figure if you wind up saying that all the time, the problem isn’t them – it’s you. But Ali Velshi tells me there are a lot of dicks out there. Which isn’t terribly promising, and Jack is not a dick, but I’ve apparently given him too much leeway. Of course. Because what were we? Nobody knows. Fantastic.

      Thank you.

  4. As usual, a very raw and real look into your heart. I did enjoy, very much, the VanGogh comment – but hate that the use of one little, 2-letter word could cut you so.

    • Thanks K8. The reason I put this out there was because, as crazy as I think I am sometimes, and as much as I fear Joey is right about me, I still believe there are others who have felt similarly.

      • Oh, and the “we” thing isn’t really all of it. Iceland became a symbol for me of everything that’s devolved with Jack over the last few months; the “we” thing is just one very glaring, glowing change that strikes me every time.

  5. >>>my intention in starting this blog was at least partly to be less guarded and more “out there” with how I feel about things.<<<

    Has it worked? I believe there's one aspect of the blog that could stand in the way of that, so I'm curious. And I'm sorry about "them." You don't need Jack.

      • Yes. Has it worked? Are you able to be less guarded while simultaneously being anonymous? That sounds pedantic, which isn’t my intent, and I’m sorry. Cold medicine is having an awful effect on my ability to communicate. And look, a flying lizard!

      • I am, yes, though I think I get your implication: that if I’m not accountable to a tangible identity, I can fabricate one. I could, but I don’t. Who I am, how I’m wired, might be what most gets in my way. Hope you feel better soon!

      • Oh, no, I didn’t mean to imply that you’re fabricating anything — that never crossed my mind. I meant anonymity is one way to stay guarded, so I was wondering if you were able to benefit from baring your soul under that condition — like using a privacy screen in the confessional, vs. confessing when the priest knows who you are (I always hated that).

        I’m sorry. This sounds like I’m criticizing you. I swear, I’m not trying to. I should probably just shut up.

  6. You DO feel things more deeply than others, cell. Joey is right. Keep spitting it out here. I share your very human foible of being “fair” to others to the exclusion of being “fair” to myself, and I could write a whole post about why, so I won’t in this comment section. I would say it takes balls to write about your real feelings, but as Betty White says, balls are weak and fragile – it take a vagina. Those things can take a pounding. You go. We’re here.

    • Ohhh, but I don’t WANNA feel things more deeply than others! It’s so hard to be understood in that case! Do I HAVE to? I have often though about how an artist is usually in that situation – tortured by his or her own depth – and while I am not an “artist” and certainly not in league with Van Gogh, Plath, Woolf, etc., it’s a frightening thought. Thank you for your supportiveness. I support you, too!

  7. I haven’t commented in a while – I’m having a harder time keeping up with everyone this summer. I just wanted you to know that I think what you’re feeling is completely normal. I think your heart is breaking, even if you never really clarified or maybe even knew yourself what you wanted your relationship with Jack to be. In any case, your heart is hurting. Whatever you feel is legitimate.

    For the record, I would feel (and have felt) the same way. I wouldn’t have commented on that FB post either, but I would have wanted to tear that girl’s hair out. And give him a good swift kick. We can’t make people love us. We can only let them go if they want to go. We have to do that. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

    • Thank you. As always, I appreciate your insightful empathy. Yes, I am heartbroken. I did know what I wanted – he didn’t know what he wanted, which meant I didn’t know what he wanted, which meant I kept hoping, even when I said I didn’t. The funny thing is, I’m not the slightest bit upset with Gwyneth. I figure she has no idea.

      • Well, I want to tear her hair out on your behalf. 😉 I’m only sort of kidding, and you know I wouldn’t ever even come close to being mean to her, because I talk all big but can’t be mean to people’s faces.

        One thing to hold on to is that broken hearts always mend. Eventually. And they almost always look mostly like they did before they got broken. But you don’t know what God has in store for you. You don’t know what this experience will bring to your next love.

        I will tell you a secret – well, not a secret anymore because I’m going to tell you. Anyway, I was madly, fully in love with a guy once upon a time, and I was the one who would not allow the involvement. He was all wrong and I loved him enough to know that he could have really, really broken me. And he would have done so. I refused to take that relationship further. And so he moved on (to a friend of mine, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). Pain, pain, pain. I sometimes wish that I had just let myself go. I thought that I could keep him as a friend if I didn’t take him as a lover. But my friend was jealous that he and I had such a close relationship (not in love, but more than friends) and she got tired of people thinking he and I were together, and so I didn’t get to keep his friendship, either. You can’t win, my dear.

        I got involved with and married his brother, and always – to this day – I have felt guilty that my husband never lit the spark in me that my friend did. I loved my husband, truly, deeply loved him. But it was in a different way, a more muted way, a way with less light and color. He told me once, before we were married, that I lit up when my friend came into the room, when we interacted. He said he wished that I lit up for him. I wished it, too. But there it is.

        Maybe I’ll never in my life meet another man who makes a light shine out from within me. And that’s okay. I know what love is, and I learned from that experience and my marriage what it is that I will and won’t settle for. I know now that love takes so many forms, and that we take risks, and sometimes we get our hearts broken – and we still go on. And it gets better.

        What I don’t know is what any of that has to do with your situation, but I wrote it and so there. I think you just remind me of me sometimes. I can’t help but see myself when you post about you and Jack. I know what it is to want something so, so badly, to crave it and ache for it, to be able to just touch it. And not to get it. Even though I made that decision for myself, I still felt that pain. There will always be a “what if” for me. But I am okay with what was, too.

  8. Thank you for sharing that. Yes, we do certainly learn from our experiences. I’m not at the point where I’m okay with my best loves being behind me, and I’m certainly not okay with them not being reciprocated. But I can understand how you got to your place, given what you’ve shared, and I so appreciate your heartfelt empathy.

    • Well, I don’t mean to say that my best loves are behind me, but rather that there are different kinds of love that you will have in your lifetime. I really think the kind of love I felt for my husband (though it didn’t survive) was a better, deeper and stronger love than what I felt for my friend. It wasn’t as sparkly, for sure, and that sparkly love brought out a different side of me, but it wasn’t better, it was just more exciting. Honestly, if I could have both at the same time, now that would be pretty great. But I think that learning those things about love and what I want and what I don’t want, that really has put me in a place to find a lasting love. I think the best love is still yet to come. Hopefully, anyway.

  9. Ah, Jack, Jack, Jack. Sorry to see you in such a dark place. I’m going to throw something out that may piss you off. I think there’s a part of you that likes your Dark side because it makes you literary … and indeed, it does. Your political posts are well-thought out and professional; your humorous posts are hysterical (funny you should bring up Robin Williams … your humorous post do remind me of his frenetic style); but when you post your pain, you become literary. Maybe that’s the way you have to do it … and maybe shedding you feelings in semi-public IS good for you … but the pain is hard to watch. I’d like to drop you in a woman’s equivalent of my Men’s Group.

    On a lighter note, in my creative writing classes, before people read their work in class, they’d start off with a disclaimer … “this is a first draft, it’s not very good, I’m not sure I like this” … my writing teacher called it The Dog Shit speech, as in “This is Dog Shit.” And to your question, “How do you balance wanting to be just like everyone else with wanting to be unlike anyone else?” … an old sort-of-friend (story to remain untold) used to say, Ordinary on the outside, extraordinary on the inside. I have a story about running someone through their first sub-four-hour marathon, but I have a feeling it could get me killed. But now it’s back in my consciousness, so it might become a post.

    • You didn’t piss me off. It’s an interesting perspective – I have to say that I’ve been “literary,” at least in my head (as in navel-gazing) from a very, very young age. I think the expression is a necessary release of the introspection, but I don’t like it. I didn’t do a good job of making it clear, but my question about wanting to be ordinary and not at the same time was in some ways about Joey’s observations of me. I want to be “just like everyone else” in that I’m not thought to be out of my gourd, and “unlike anybody else” in that my “depth,” for lack of a better descriptor, would resemble the irritating dramas of a lot of other women if I allowed myself to express them – and I don’t want to be like those women.The somewhat multiple-personality thing you see in my postings? That’s really me. I want a safe place to display that I am all of those things, so I blog.

      Anyway, what you often don’t see is that it usually takes me a while to be able to sort my tumultuous thoughts into something resembling a cohesive post. And until I started blogging I never wrote anything down. But the darkness? I hate it.

      Oh, and the disclaimer was ONLY for the newbies I picked up from my FP post (who don’t know me yet). And you’re right – I don’t want to hear anything about marathons right now. 🙂

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughts. I do appreciate them.

  10. I don’t buy the theory that people use humor to mask angst, although I’m sure there are those who do. It seems perfectly normal to have a reasonable amount of both percolating around in us at any given time; sometimes one emotion is dominant, and sometimes another is.

  11. Pingback: In Which I Have (Almost) No Real New Things To Say | thesinglecell

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