Archive for January, 2010

Last fall, I had drinks with Kevin, a sensuous though somewhat slippery restaurateur I briefly dated years back in New York.  We talked about our latest love interests and while I went on ecstatically about my man’s creativity, his devilish wit, the sexy way his lip curled when he smiled, Kevin was a bit ho hum about his new lady friend.   

“She’s pretty,” he said.  “We have similar backgrounds, our working lives are compatible.”  With a casual shrug of his shoulders, he concluded, “she fits.”  

Kevin said nothing about love, intimacy or how his loins stirred when his gal walked into the room.  He only said she fits.  

Before Ms. Fits, Kevin dated an iron-willed wild child who he fought and made up with in deliciously seductive turns.  Kevin’s mild-mannered persona often balked at the sparks of behavior thrown off by this lovely ball of fire.  And unlike Ms. Fits’ quieter life as a caterer, Wild Child’s skyrocketing success as a playwright gave Kevin’s competitive streak a run for its money.  The boy was hooked.  I never quite understood what had happened to make him quit the longest, most invigorating relationship he seemed ever to have had.  All he told me was how it “stopped working,” and how, at present, this new gal “fit.”  

So, of course, I obsessed for the next few hours about “fitting.”  Would I “fit” into my new love’s world?  What piece of my life – job, upbringing, socio-economic status – would I have trouble “fitting” into the grand puzzle of his? 

It’s as if our romantic lives are now run using corporate strategy, like they’re deals being brokered in some company’s Mergers and Acquisitions department.  According to Wikipedia (yeah, I had to look it up), Mergers and Acquisitions is all about the “buying, selling and combining of different companies that can aid, finance, or help a growing company in a given industry grow rapidly without having to create another business entity.”  

Perhaps it’s absurd of me to be using business or math analogies since I still count on my fingers and can barely tell time, but the point is clear:  you’re either an acquirer or a merger.  Either you’re looking for someone who can install themselves into your world without much adjustment on your part, or someone who can push out the edges of your world and make it big enough to fit two gigantic lives into one.   

Kevin’s an acquirer.  He and his gal have checklists of needs that apparently can be met by both parties.  In Ms. Fits, he has acquired a life partner.  Which I guess makes me a merger.  I’ve got my own life story but am jazzed by the possibility of being woven into another person’s story so a whole new tale can unfold.  Acquirers don’t want the hassle of creating a new entity.  But mergers want to discover the new galaxy that will take shape after the big bang blast of two souls colliding.  They have the urge to, uh, merge.   

Surely, if you want to build something with another person, the puzzle pieces of your lives need to fit in some way.  But in the long run, do you stay together because the new entity is made up of the right parts, or because you’re so mad about each other, you make it work?  

Like most folks, I look for evidence to support my own beliefs.  Therefore, when Kevin suggested we go back to his pad for a more intimate reunion, I considered it proof that acquisition is the least effective dating strategy.  If his gal was such a great match, what gaps was he trying to fill by reaching back into history with me?  I politely declined the offer then found out from a mutual friend six months later that Kevin had not only married Ms. Fits, but she was seven months pregnant.  

The first conclusion to draw is that Kevin is an a-hole.  Maybe Ms. Fits was an ideal mate for Kevin because she could nestle nicely into the landscape of his life.  Or maybe fate, and his overeager seed, forced him to make her fit.   

But the second, more important conclusion is that a person has to do more than complement your life to make love last.  A relationship should be so emotionally snug that you feel comfortable, lusty…and able to keep it in your pants.

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Since Massachusetts blew the senatorial election to replace Ted Kennedy, I’m going to do what lots of folks do to avoid reality: focus on Hollywood.  I shall now turn my attention to the next important “race” in America, which is the Oscar race. 
In this contest, I support only one candidate and would like to announce my endorsement by offering the following campaign slogan:    

Kathryn Bigelow rocks.  

If you don’t know who she is, I dare you to watch The Hurt Locker and walk out of the movie theater without having your mind blown.  Hollywood’s got Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers leading a tiny pack of female film directors, but these dames only churn out girly schlock about parenting, shopping and going gaga for guys.  Kathryn Bigelow is a different animal.  Some of the director’s most famous films were 1987’s Near Dark, a creepily dark gore fest about vampires, and Point Break, an adrenaline rush about bank-robbing surfers that became a cult classic despite the Keanu Reeves cheese factor.  

But Bigelow’s masterpiece is last year’s The Hurt Locker, a gritty, ass-on-the-edge-of-your-seat film about the Iraq War which the New York Times promises will leave you “shaken, exhilarated and drained, but…also thinking.”  As a filmmaker, Kathryn Bigelow is hardcore and virile.   

And yeah.  She’s a chick.  

I get jazzed when female entertainers compete on the same turf as the big boys, only because I loathe any presumption about what art is and who should be making it; in particular, the suggestion that females can only make art for other women.  Supposedly, lady art doesn’t touch on universal themes or is considered light fare when compared to the hunkier expressions of men.  Books by women are Chick or Mommy Lit, while their movies are Chick Flicks and Rom Coms.  In 2007, Vanity Fair god Christopher Hitchens claimed women aren’t even as funny as men. 

Admittedly, there aren’t many women working in or consuming mainstream culture who are disproving these theories.  I don’t want to believe most gals would rather write or read The Dating Detox than The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or create or watch The Proposal instead of, well, The Hurt Locker.  I wonder if women really are into fluff or whether we’re conditioned to be.  Are women who break the mold, like Kathryn Bigelow and, say, Tina Fey, really anomalies, or are they the only females who’ve had the luck to squeeze through the cultural gate?  There must be gobs of talented writers, filmmakers and craftswomen who would make multi-dimensional art if they could just find their way into the mainstream…er, right?  

It all came home during last Sunday’s Golden Globes where I found myself comparing Bigelow’s flick to the Best Picture competition.  Indeed, Avatar was a gorgeous adventure, Up in the Air touching, and Inglourious Basterds, a riotous good time. 

But really, these movies were just manifestations of their directors’ lost boyhood fantasies – Cameron’s fairy tale fascination with alien-inhabited planets, Reitman’s sweetly moralistic conclusion that love is all you need, Tarantino’s adolescent bloodlust.  Only the blistering Precious managed to do what The Hurt Locker did: tell a good story about an authentic human being whose journey into the depths of his or her own psyche illuminated some greater truth about our time.  

Kathryn Bigelow directed the manliest, most adult film of 2009, about the manliest of subjects; war.  No pretty blue people, no handsome, repentant studs, no zany Nazis.  Just sweaty men, dirt and bombs.  Bigelow offered high-impact action and ideas, she got us high as our nerves popped then left us with a rewarding emotional finish.  And unlike Avatar’s director James Cameron, who I expected to come out from behind the scenery to say, “in case you didn’t get it, war is bad,” or, “hey, that last scene was about how we should care more for the environment,” Bigelow made her point without slamming us over the head.  As the San Francisco Chronicle said, “she makes guy movies – and she makes them better than guys do.”

Of course, there’s no harm in silly, Chick-infested fun, just like dudes can toss softballs like The Hangover into the culture and still be considered an artistically versatile gender.  The problem with bubble-headed girl crap is there isn’t much else for us. 

Although who am I to talk, when I’ve written a novel that, upon publication, will undoubtedly land smack dab in the middle of Chick Lit-ville.  I love my book, my baby makes me proud.  But I do hope to continue to evolve as an artist in order to lift myself and my lady friends out of the pigeonholes we fit ourselves into.  Thankfully, women like Kathryn Bigelow make playing in the big leagues seem within reach.  

As of now, I’m practicing my swing.

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If you’d like to figure out what’s wrong with you relationship-wise, don’t read a self-help book.  Get an online bank account. 

Every time I log into my checking account, I’m asked a “security question,” the answer to which only I’m supposed to know, so the bank can confirm my identity.  Thus far, the only question the bank has asked me upon logging in is the name of my first boyfriend.  And what a joy it is to be forced to recall that relationship on a regular basis.  

When I was setting up the account, I had to select three possible security questions from a handful of rotten choices.  The only questions I could answer with any certainty were my mother’s birthplace and the name of Bozo my first boyfriend.  But choosing the third question threw me for a loop.  The street I grew up on?  Geez, I moved around so much, I barely remember what my high school was called.  The name of my favorite pet?  Well, there was Mitten, my first cat, but we had to give her away.  Then there was my Grandma’s dog, Maggie, but she got hit by a car.  My best friend in grammar school?  Which grammar school?  I had a best friend in each one.  I could say Molly Bartasevich, she was a decent chick.  But am I going to remember ol’ Moll every time I log in?  

Still, the worst question has to be about my first boyfriend, a self-loathing man/boy who cheated and made fun of everything I did.  Now, every time I log into my account I have to think about this hideous example of masculine turd-headedness and what a dip I was for digging him.  

Could there be worse memories to unearth from the past?  How ‘bout, “what was the name of the kid in grade school who used to make fun of you for buying your clothes at KMart” or, “what was more embarrassing; having food in your braces throughout the entire fifth grade or tripping over your shoelaces in front of your quarterback crush in high school?” 

Based on the answers to my security questions, I’ve deduced the following: I may have a fear of intimacy due to a history of rootlessness, mean kids on the playground and pet trauma, culminating in a damaging first love relationship with a complete heel.  

Thanks, Bank of America! 

If we must remember personal information about ourselves with such frequency, how about more forward thinking, more enjoyable security questions?  Here are my suggestions: 

“What is the most interesting city you’ve ever visited?”  

“What do you love most about puppies?” 

“If you had five minutes in an elevator with George Clooney, what would you do to him first?” 

“How much money do you wish was in this bank account after you get through these lameass security questions?” 

Personally, I’m glad to have discovered this banking treasure.  My financial institution is really helping me out in the most challenging areas of my life.  Their exorbitant fees keep my piddly budget in check, the crickets I hear chirping whenever I’m on hold with customer service teaches me patience, and now their covert love counsel is getting my romantic life back on track. 

Who needs self-help when you’ve got a bank?

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Winter cramps my style.  All I want is to cover every inch of flesh to avoid the elements, which completely trumps being fashionable.  I see women in stylish canary yellow coats, in sexy stockings, in cutie-pie knit caps topped with tufts of yarn or those funky Russian jobs old guys wear to go hunting.  Despite the icy tundra surrounding us, these gals look like a million bucks.  

Meanwhile, I’m dressed in four layers of clothes beneath a down coat hanging to my knees.  I’m in a bulbous hat covering my entire head, a chunky scarf and boots heavy enough to pass military inspection.  Because of my shortness and round features, the look is far from flattering.  I could only describe my winter style as “igloo-esque.”  

The winter is my cocoon period, a season of reinvention in which I discover new ways to put myself into the world once I become a butterfly in spring.  Clothes may be the most superficial aspect of this rebirth, but certainly they’re the most fun.  Usually, I only get rid of old stuff from the closet or choose new words to describe my style.  Last year, I was going to be “funky,” the year before a bit more “boho.”  But 2010 feels different.  More transformative.  My next incarnation?  

I’m going to be an Italian woman.   

I was watching this foreign film about an Italian guy trying to extract himself from a relationship with one woman while sleeping with another.  The first time we meet the passionate Cloe, woman numero uno in the film, she’s sunbathing topless.  When her bully of a boyfriend comes round to demand she get ready for dinner, she yells something impassioned and Italian at him, like, “I cannot live like this, you are nothing but a worm!  I have no use for you.  This isn’t love, it’s brutalization!”  Cloe slips on a wrinkled, sheer blouse and ties her hair in a loose knot yet still manages to look absolutely stunning.  Then she and her man go to a restaurant where she continues to don the see-through top, proudly displaying her breasts to any other patron who dares to look in her direction.   

I’m totally gonna start doing that.    

Really, I’d been working Italy into my wardrobe for years, but lots of items have remained hidden in my closet since I’ve been back in the States.  In fact, much of the vivacious, voluptuous, hot-blooded textures Europe gave to my character have been subdued in an attempt to re-acclimate.  Undoubtedly, it would be kind of odd to go to the movies in a busty, Sophia Loren-type getup or disagree with a colleague at work by telling him, “Your cruelty seeps into me like poison.  You are a fool and you are dead to me.”   

Anyway, it’s more than getting bored with my wardrobe.  It’s about wanting to free a caged part of my soul.   

Part of my reason for coming back to the States was realizing I couldn’t spend a lifetime drinking sangria and writing stories in cafés with manic poets and directionless bums.  But why does the alternative have to be so humdrum?  One doesn’t have to be a wanderluster who moves half way across the globe to know the way we’ve constructed our worlds kinda stinks.  The passion is gone from our day to day.  The vast palette of color that enriches our lives has been drained by a fixation on success, or nowadays, survival.   

I want it back.  Maybe I don’t have to channel Italian women, move to the other side of the planet or even alter the life I’ve built for myself in the here and now.  Maybe I simply need to be adamant in not allowing my own passion to drain.  Let the thigh high stockings beneath my business suit be a silent rebellion.  Let the sound of my laughter reach socially unacceptable levels as a more explicit revolt.  Maybe next time someone bullies me, I’ll skip the Oprah-style courtesy and let him know he’s a worm who’s destroying my life.  I’ll take flamenco classes and mimic the languages I hear in foreign films and write stories raw enough to unsettle more emotionally detached sensibilities.  And I’ll keep falling madly, dangerously in love.  That is, once I get out of this dag-blasted parka.

 Man, I can’t wait for spring.

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My friend Kim is an addict. 

Pills are not her poison, nor gambling or booze.  Emotionally maladjusted men have been her drug of choice.  Since her first crush on a sexually confused Cure fan with mommy issues, she has ridden nearly every loop on the roller coaster ride of human psychological dysfunction. 

Higher up the chain we have sexy artists and brainy academics with intimacy issues.  Further down, we find bad boys.  Slackers.  Dumbasses. 

Kim is smart, successful and easy on the peepers, so finding a suitable mate shouldn’t be such an ordeal.  She has tried to rid herself of this addiction, but Lordy, how quickly the rationalizations come: “Just one last postdoc afraid to leave his house during winter,” or, “What’s one more cute fireman who can’t tell time gonna hurt?” 

Everyone has patterns.  My friend Kyle only dates dippy women so he doesn’t feel bad when he gets bored and dumps them.  My friend Erica only finds herself attracted to men with wives and girlfriends.  But we stand at the dawn of a new decade.  The time has come to make different choices.  

Admittedly, I’m often drawn to psychologically messy men myself.  Maybe it’s the misguided notion that by putting together the disjointed puzzle pieces of a person’s psyche, he’ll be yours forever.  Or maybe it’s because when you’ve got your act together and enjoy a mostly solid sense of self, being inside another person’s chaos brings a peculiar kind of rush.  

Regardless of the reasons, one day you have to wake up, face your addictions and simply quit cold turkey.  I figure breaking romantic patterns is like quitting smoking.  You need a few last cigarettes before you finally kick it for good.  

One of Kim’s last cigarettes was a perpetually unemployed bartender, twice divorced before the age of thirty and covered in tattoos.  When she saw him in a café, a mild-mannered looking gentleman was reading an Abe Lincoln biography three tables away.  Mr. Mild Mannered was definitely the person she should’ve talked to, but no, Kim had to go with the dickweed in tattoos.  The bartender had only two interests: motorcycles and booze.  The last “book” he’d read was the Cliff Notes on Macbeth in high school.  Of course the relationship didn’t last.  She could’ve had more sparkling conversation with a ham sandwich.  

After Kim ended things with the bartender, I suggested introducing her to a friendly, emotionally sturdy teacher pal of mine.  

“This guy may not be ‘the One,’” I said, “but he does have a job.”  I was always introducing prospective love interests to Kim the same way: “He may not be ‘the One’ but…he doesn’t have a drinking problem,” or, “he’s never been institutionalized,” or, “he can read.” 

Kim realized her pattern had reached its sell-by date six months ago when she told me about her budding relationship with Troy, a pothead college dropout who lived in his brother’s basement.  I must have looked at her as if a turtle was crawling out of her nose because she promised not to meet with me again until she was in a relationship with a worthwhile partner.  “But,” I wailed.  “That could take years!” 

She ditched Troy the next day.  It’s been six months and she claims not to even feel the cravings.  Does she miss these guys?  Not really.  Was she tempted to reignite the flame with the bartender when she ran into him a few weeks ago?  Nah.  Did she ask out the sexy dreadlocked guy on our bus who’s reading the Dummy’s Guide to raising ferrets?  Nope.  

Call it progress.    

I’m trying to learn from Kim’s example.  Examine my own pattern and, like a bad tooth, extract it before the rot seeps too deeply into the root.  Nothing wrong with artists and thinkers or men with tattoos, as long as they’re doing something purposeful with themselves.  As long as they’ve dug themselves out from the emotional holes everyone falls into now and then.  Walking along the edges and margins certainly makes life a more interesting journey.  Though, how far are you going to get with a cripple as a guide? 

So in 2010, I’m joining Kim in resolving to no longer date bad boys and meanies and men who have lint for brains.  I will no longer become enchanted by a guy with a Texas-sized ego or the relating skills of a turnip.  Emotional dysfunction may be thrilling.  But the ride rarely ends without somebody barfing.  

Here’s to a happier, healthier 2010!

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