We might as well try, 1: See how we are

12 07 2012


First, an error (which will nonetheless remain): I was thinking we might as well try was a Beth Orton lyric, but it is not; the line I was thinking of, from “Pass in time” is You might as well smile/cause tomorrow you just don’t know. Since we might as well try fits so well, however, it’s staying.

That’s how it is.

(That whole cd is fantastic, by the way. Central Reservation. I’ll post a vid, below, along with the X vid; I know that lyric is right.)

Anyway, to begin the beguine, the human.

Hannah Arendt’s admonition that we should pitch “human nature” in favor of the “human condition” made a kind of intuitive sense to me when I first read it, although I couldn’t put that sense into words.

The problem of human nature, the Augustinian quaestio mihi factus sum (“a question I have become for myself”) seems unanswerable in both its individual psychological sense and its general philosophical sense. . . . [I]f we have a nature or an essence, then surely only a god could know and define it, and the first prerequisite would be that he be able to speak about a “who” as though it were a “what.” The perplexity is that the modes of human cognition applicable to things with “natural” qualities, including ourselves to the limited extent that we are specimens of the most highly developed species of organic life, fail us when we raise the question: And who are we?

She says, in effect, that we can’t get outside of ourselves, which is what is really sufficient to be able to determine any essential qualities; more to the point, even if we could determine an essential what, that helps us not at all with the how and who of us.

On the other hand, the conditions of human existence—life itself, natality and mortality, worldliness, plurality, and the earth—can never “explain” what we are or answer the question of who we are for the simple reason that they never condition us absolutely.

Arendt noted earlier that

The human condition comprehends more than the conditions under which life has been given to man. Men are conditioned because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence. . . . In addition to the conditions under which life is given to man on earth, and partly out of them, men constantly create their own, self-made conditions, which, their human origin and their variability notwithstanding, possess the same condition power as natural things. Whatever touches or enters into a sustained relationship with human life immediately assumes the character of a condition of human existence.

I know, right? Right?

Okay, so it was good that Arendt was such an acute thinker, because she wasn’t always the sharpest writer. Still, I wanted to give you the excerpts, if only to give you a base from which to jump off and all over my interpretation of that base.

Which is: we are whats, material beings, but not just whats. To  divine a human nature is, in a sense, to reduce us to a what, and since we can’t get outside of ourselves (which would be necessary for such a reduction), it makes no sense to try. We may, in fact, never fully understand even our whatness, much less the how and who (and don’t even bother with the why) of humanness, but we can look around and make sense of the world we live in, both given and constructed. Thus, to speak of the human condition is to refer to that double-existence: one (please forgive the Heideggerianism) always already there, and one we are constantly re-shaping and re-creating.

And of course you understand that even the givens are fluid—Heraclitus and all that, right?

I’m as bad as Arendt, aren’t I? To boil this nub into a nib: We live in a world made over by us, and which makes us over. We condition and are conditioned, and the best chance we have of making sense of our selves is to make sense of those conditions and conditionings.

And that nib into a bit: We live in our relations to the natural world, the world we make, and to one another; we cannot make sense outside of these relationships.

So what does that mean for this project? That we start in the world, with actual human beings in all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses and not in some abstracted stick-figure of what someone things we should be, if only we could get rid of all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses.

The mess is our condition; get rid of that, and you get rid of us.


And now, as promised, Beth Orton:

And X:


Winter, spring, summer, or fall

19 03 2012

K. has a bad boyfriend.

He may not be a bad guy (tho’ I don’t know if he’s a good guy. . . ), but he is a bad boyfriend.

K. knows this—she’s the one who gave C. and me the lowdown on him—but for a variety of reasons is not ready to end the relationship once and for all.

C. and I had our own variety of reasons of why she should end it, and we tag-teamed our explication of why the relationship needed to end now, yesterday, six months ago. He didn’t deserve her, C. and I agreed, and she should be with someone who really appreciated what a treasure she was.

Did I mention we had all been drinking?

Anyway, I don’t think anything C. or I said to here will matter one whit, and, honestly, that’s as it should be.

It was a kind of friendship ritual we went through: she got to pour out her uncertainties, we got to affirm that she was terrific, and the evening ended with orations on What Should Be and kisses. It was more about each and all of us than anything having to do with the boyfriend.

No, as the one who has to live with—or without—her boyfriend, it is left to K. to decide where and how and if he fits in her life. It’s her call, not ours.

But letting her know that we do think she’s terrific, well, yes, that we could do.

Never enough

9 12 2009

Be beautiful.

Be smart (but not too. . .).

Be supportive.

Be thin.

Be a wife. Be a girlfriend. Be a mother.

Be everything.

But not enough. It won’t be enough, not for him.

Let it be stipulated that not every man cheats. Let it be stipulated that women cheat. Let it be stipulated that monogamy is not for everyone.

Let it be further stipulated that athletes and politicians and corporate moguls and celebrities are not like the rest of us.


I look at these everything-women and their caddish men and think Women are fucked.

Told constantly by magazine writers and self-help authors and media representations and advertisements and sexperts that if women would only lose the weight and change the hair and brighten the smile and maybe engage in a little bo-nip-tuck-tox (and, of course, shave/wax/defoliate one’s nether and whatever other  regions) you too could earn yourself The Man of Your Dreams™, we are confronted with the scenario in which said Man simply decides that one is nowhere near enough.

I know: media representations are bullshit, and my rational feminist brain tells me that relationships are complex and compatibility runs far deeper than the skin.


This plain and single woman cannot rid herself of the enduring thought that if only she’d lose five pounds and/or get in better shape and get her teeth and eyes fixed then maybe, just maybe, she could be worth dating.

Irrational, yes. Pathetic, yes. A handy way to avoid addressing the real reasons I don’t date—yes, absolutely, yes.


The thought remains.

As does the apparent evidence that whatever fixes one enacts won’t ever be enough.

Fucked, all around.

No one is alone. . .

13 05 2009

. . . Oh yes, we are. Or is that ‘Oh yes, one is’?


Many of us to choose to live alone, and we cultivate our solitude even as we cultivate friends. Some of us would like to marry or attach ourselves to a intimate companion, but we’re not necessarily distraught over the lack of such a companion.

We’re alone, and we’re all right.

And yet, even if we’re—oh hell, lemme switch to the (duh) singular—even if I’m okay with my solitary existence, I’m okay because it is not only solitary. Among the main reasons I left Bummerville was the difficulty in finding friends—true friends, people with whom I’d share ideas and embarassments and beers and tears, not just folks with whom sharing went no further than ‘What’s new?’ There were a few people, here and there, but I lacked that gathering of intimates, the jumble of personalities who, collectively, form a kind of thick weave of comfort around oneself.

I can’t say I’ve fully cultivated those rich layers of friendships in New York City, but I have discovered some people who I hope to spend the rest of my life getting to know, and some of whom I already consider good friends. This is a tough old broad of a place, and as much affection as I might have for tough old broads, I also need trusted allies in dealing with her. Hence, the friends.

That works for regular life. What, however, of the ruptures of illness or trauma or disability of whatever sort? On her NYTimes blog, The Well, Tara Parker-Pope highlighted a report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation on the difficulties same-sex couples may encounter in trying to care for their partners in hospitals. She notes that

While heterosexual couples typically don’t have to provide marriage licenses to hospitals in order to prove they are husband and wife, same sex couples often must document their relationship to hospital officials before being allowed to take part in a partner’s care.

In some cases partners and their children were barred from the bedside, and their beloved died alone. Even when they had documentation of their relationship, including legal papers in which they were designated as health proxies or given durable power of attorney, the partner often had to fight to be able to care for his or her companion.

I’m not going to go into the idiocy and brutality of exclusionary policies—commentors on the blog do that quite nicely—but instead will simply note that same-sex couples and single people are in many ways in the same unseaworthy boat: We’re screwed when we need help and institutions won’t recognize those whom we would like to help us.

Even when I was straighter than I currently am, I believed that single (straight) women should unhesitatingly support gay rights. Control over one’s body? Check. Control over one’s sexuality? Check. To live outside of normal sex roles? Check. To choose to have kids or not, and in what circumstances? Check. To live one’s life in a way that makes sense to her? Check.

Attacks on LGBT folk for their (our) allegedy degenerative effects on the rest of the healthy, wholesome, heterosexual social body can, without much imagination, morph into attacks on single folks themselves. Marriage is sacred, marriage is the foundation of society, heterosexual commitment is required for stable communities, sex outside of the bonds of matrimony is empty and selfish and dangerous, blah blah. There is One Right Way To Be, and to Not-Be that way is to be, well, ‘that way’.

Fine, so I’m ‘that way’ in more than one way. But this is how and who I am, and I’d like some security in my lonely and alienated unpredictable and gratifyingly cobbled-together life. And as much as I support same-sex marriage, I want to make sure that those of us who choose not marry don’t get left behind in that leaky boat.

Queer folk have (along with feminists) questioned the boundaries of matrimony and family and rightfully demanded reconsiderations of those boundaries to include a panoply of orientations and identities. This is good. But if the efforts to broaden the definition of marriage serve only to reinforce its privileges, well, that’s not so good.

So what do we single folk do? Do we follow the route taken by domestic partners and file paperwork designating friends as health care proxies? Do we give a list of approved visitors to any hospitals we use, so administrators don’t have to worry about violating HIPAA [privacy] regs?

If I’m in an accident or get sick, I want my friends to know. (Well, honestly, part of me wants to tough it out alone, the same part which is berating me for saying I want my friends to know. But hospitals suck and they suck even more when you’re in one alone. So Shut up, me.) I want them asking about my care and in my room and, if necessary, kicking someone’s ass on my behalf.

I want them to do what my family, a thousand miles away, couldn’t do. I want my people, here, to be with me.

Maybe this starts in conversations with friends. We talk to one another, find out what kind of support we have and don’t have, want and don’t want. Tell each other what we want from each other, what we’re willing and able to provide to one another.

I’m still assembling my life, and while it’s possible that at some point I could meet someone who could be a lifelong companion, I’m not waiting for him or her.

This is it. I am alone in this city—except for my friends. That’s a damned significant exception, and I’d like these folks to be able to act as my Significant Others.

My father’s waltz

16 11 2008

I didn’t have access to the Internet for a few days, and I thought that was a TRAGEDY!

Then I got a voicemail from my mom, telling me my dad had had a stroke.


He’s in the hospital, has a slight weakness in his right hand, but otherwise retains his large motor functions, still has his gag reflex, and is able to walk, go to the bathroom, and eat. (He did need assistance to get to the bathroom, but this may have been due to the pre-MRI sedatives.) He was supposed to have that MRI today, but was still too agitated even after sedation that the docs had to call it off; tomorrow, with the help of stronger drugs, he’ll get his noggin scanned.

He’s not talking much, but, again, he’s been drugged up. It’s clear to the docs, however, that the stroke occurred on the left side of his brain, so that his speech has been affected is unsurprising. He was, at least, able to respond to a nurse who asked him some basic questions about eating.

And you know the whole hide-the-pills-in-food thing pulled on children and pets? They do it with adults, too, in my pop’s case, applesauce. (The nurse noticed he was tucking the applesauce into his cheeks, but he did eventually swallow it.)

I get along with my family, but in many ways we are not close. As I’ve joked with friends, there’s a reason I live a thousand miles away. Still, when one gets a voicemail informing one of a parent’s medical crisis, well, one feels every mile of that separation.

I’m worried about my pop, but I’m worried about my mom, too. They are extremely close: they met when my mom was in 8th grade and my dad a sophomore; began dating two years later, and married two weeks after my mom graduated high school. My pop was in the Air Force then, so they spent some time apart, but for the past 50 years (yeah, they celebrate their 50th anniversary next year) they have been inseparable. There’s no one the other would rather be with.

They are also very clear about wanting to preserve their independence, and to live their lives as fully as possible. Some years ago they filled out living wills, authorized my sister to carry out the terms of those documents, and have told each of us (sister, brother, me) that they have no desire to have their bodies preserved beyond what they would consider a decent life. My siblings and I respect that.

So while it’s too early to form any long-term prognosis for my pop, I am concerned what this stroke means for that decent life, for their shared life. I use the singular deliberately: they became adults together, became the people they are today together, so while they are most definitely individuals, I think they understand themselves as a necessary, beloved, part of the other.

I hope that will be enough to pull them through.

Johnny, are you queer?

13 11 2008

I used to be straight; now, not so much.

It’s an odd thing, in the midst of one’s life, to shift from one position to another, from one side to the middle.

Is that what bisexuality is? The middle? I guess, if sexuality is to be stretched across a linear spectrum (‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you measure. . .’).

I don’t know that sexuality is to be stretched across the linear spectrum.

Despite having once written a (very bad) conference paper on the biology of sexuality, I claim no expertise on the origins or development of sexuality. Yeah, evolutionarily speaking, het sex makes sense, but so what: while we are also evolutionary creatures, we are not only evolutionary creatures. Besides, what about the urge to reproduce requires orgasms?

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So I’m bi, but I don’t know that I’m bi in the same way someone else is bi. (Then again, when I was straight, I don’t know that I was straight in the same way others were straight.) It’s not that I suddenly want to sleep with every woman or have threesomes or feel the need to alternate man-woman-man-woman in my affections.

Nope, it’s much simpler than that. Although I do have all kinds of attractions to all kinds of people, in almost all of these instances, the attraction isn’t sexual. (This is good, as it would be awkward if I wanted to sleep with my friends. Some people could manage that; I couldn’t.) But, sometimes, I am intensely attracted to someone, and want to get to know him (and now, her) in a variety of unbiblical ways.

And that’s it. Before, if I happened to find myself physically attracted to someone, that person was a guy. I didn’t question this. Then, about a year and a-half ago, I was jolted by the recognition that, hm, I could be physically attracted to a woman.

Whoa! Jolted is the right term: Where the hell did this come from?

I have long had friends who are lesbians, have joked about who I’d jump the fence for, said that while I wasn’t turned off by the thought of sleeping with a woman, I wasn’t particularly turned on by it, either. Yeah, I said, I could sleep with a woman and probably enjoy it, but I don’t think she’d get much out of it.

Have I been in denial all this time? Nah. I think that before I wasn’t attracted to both women and men, and now I am.

Why the switch? I came to this realization around the time I finished my first novel, when I was still a bit dazed at the fact that I had written a novel. So, at one point, when talking about both the novel and this bi-recognition to M.P, I mentioned my bewilderment. Maybe these things are connected, she said. Maybe in opening yourself to the writing, in letting yourself be creative, you let out other parts of yourself. M. is much more willing to call upon spiritual notions than I am, but what she said made a kind of sense to me. I have no other explanation.

As a practical matter, however, little has changed. I was alone then and I’m alone now. Being bi, I tell people, just gives me twice as many ways to screw things up.

Beyond such bitter-tinged glibness, however, there is something real. On a political level, I’m no longer just a gay-positive straight chick, acting on principle and on behalf of friends. In fact, a big part of the reason I’m blogging about this now is in response to Prop 8. I don’t live in California and I have no desire to marry anyone, but that my fellow citizens could take away a constitutionally-recognized right to marry doesn’t just offend my principles, it slices at the possibilities of my own life. Denouncing Prop 8 without coming clean—coming out—feels like lying. Liberation can’t be built on lies.

But this is not mainly a political issue for me, largely because I’ve always supported the ‘gay agenda’. No, this is deeply personal, and deeply disruptive of my sense of self. As mentioned in previous posts, it’s not as if I previously had a strong sense of who I am, but I’ve been able in many ways to treat this as a philosophical puzzle. Having my sexuality thrown into question—thrown open—forces me out of my abstractions and into the actual world. Before, I could think idly about what a possible future relationship looked like, how we’d deal with each other, etc., and continue in this nice, smooth, speculative groove. I was operating in default mode, unquestioned and unreal.

No more. I’ve been tossed out of myself, and now have to decide whether to crawl back into that (appropriately adjusted and resealed) groove, or take this chance to find something new.

Take a chance, I know, take the chance! But I’m so used to crawling. . . .

Indirection, part I

13 10 2008

Indirection. It’s the only way I can approach this.  Dead on, and I veer away.

Thus. I wondered previously about sex, wondered if there weren’t more to sex than. . . sex.

Yes and no. Duh.

Okay, no more gone-away-speak. What I mean is, why would sex have to be just one thing? Why couldn’t it be about intimacy and pleasure and games and love and babies (oh yeah, forgot about them) and a way to pass some time—perhaps all at once or perhaps at different times? (And if you want to make it about God or spirituality or the cosmos, be my guest. Your sex life, really, is yours.) So Tuesday it’s about your partner and Friday it’s about the wine  and my didn’t (s)he look good and the following Sunday morning it’s about having the time and remembering why the two of you have been waking up together for as long as you have.

As mentioned previously, I was never much of a bed-hopper, so I can’t say much about one-night-stands. I get it—sometimes your body just says Gimme Gimme Gimme—but beyond that, I can only speculate. Is it that someone else finds you attractive? Sexual power? Or just about the gimme gimme gimme?

Again, I get that, but doesn’t that get old? You never have to learn about someone else, never have to vary your moves (just your partners), never have to concern yourself (if one is properly protected) with anyone or anything beyond your own skin. Perhaps that’s the point, and the pleasure, of playing. Maybe that’s not so bad, at least in the short time. You get out of a relationship, want some excitement, want to see who and what is out there, so a few quick tosses seem, well, refreshing. But over the long term, wouldn’t it just get stale?

And this is where the larger questions of sex and intimacy lay in wait: what do you want from a partner?

And this is where I’m snared, because I haven’t been with anyone long enough to ask, much less answer, that question. (Well, I guess one could ask this of short-termers as well, in which the answers are simple: Arm candy! Dancing! And lest we forget: Orgasms! Fine things, all, but, again, I’m looking for something beyond this.)

What do I want from a partner? Haven’t a clue. Well, not exactly true: some of the same things I want from friends (strong mind, good sense of humor, generosity, thoughtfulness, complexity, etc.), but something ineffably more, too. Yes, sexual attraction is part of that ineffable more, but is this all beyond words?

How to answer the question: Why be with someone rather than no one?

Judas my heart

12 10 2008

I’ve done it. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

And thus have failed.

Backstory (partial):

I have my moods. I know: don’t we all. That said, I have to pay attention to them, to make sure they don’t spin out of control. For a very long time, all they—I—did was spin out of control, but about 7 1/2 years ago I got hold of them.

(Seven and a-half years. Jesus. Has it really been that long? Even as I’ve gotten used to this equanimity, it still feels new, not yet broken in.)

The hold remains. Still, I swoon on occasion. This is normal, I tell myself: bad days, better days, days and days. But too long a swoon and I have to start looking to where the ground is, to make sure I don’t, once again, go spinning off. And I haven’t. The hold remains.

Still, I swoon. I recognized today a particularly wretched form of swoon, one most likely to occur in the fall: the wistful swoon. (Unlike, say, the spring swoon, which is irritable and full of dread of the upcoming heat, or the winter swoon, which is contemplative and not wholly unpleasant. I suppress summer swoons: summers were my worst times, before; I take no chances.)

So, the wistful swoon. This is where I consider the choices made and find them wanting. It is not so much about regret, as that would suggest that I actively considered, before rejecting, better alternatives, as it is an acute awareness of my lacks. What did I not think, not feel, not do. How did I fail to engage in my own life, to secure myself in this life. What have I wanted and not wanted, and what have I done with these wants. Have I allowed myself to want.

And this is where I pick up the story of failure: No, I haven’t allowed myself wants.

Yes, I’ve wanted chocolate and beer and coffee and more sleep, and gotten those. Things I could get for myself.

But wants from others? Nooooo. Hence, the accomplishment, and the failure: For too long I wanted from others what seemed like too much, a want that seemed outsized and overwhelming and frankly all out of proportion to what any reasonable person should want. Thus, I began to remake myself into this reasonable person, to separate my wants from myself, to pare down want and need until they were small and hard enough to expel from my being.

Not for me. That’s all. Not for me.

Thus the jokes about my bitter little heart, my small life, my unwillingness to date, how unsuited I am to long-term (romantic) relationships, my skill at getting in my own way. Ha ha ha.

Mostly I find these jokes harmless, or even a good way to keep myself from Taking Myself Too Seriously.

But there are days I turn that bitter little heart over in my hands and think, What a waste.

(And here I pause, uncertain of whether to proceed. All of these things, Not For Me, how can I discuss them? I can barely say the words aloud, knowing they will dissipate in the solitude of my room. To write them, to be read by others? Could I take them back. . . ?)

Contraband, these wants, smuggled back when my attention flagged. And so begins the swoon: surveillance weakens, and I am pummeled by desire.

Riding shotgun to desire is uncertainty: Was I wrong to banish such wants? Perhaps a fully human life is one less strict with desire, more generous regarding, even gentle with, the wish for others. Perhaps self-discipline, a means to an end, has crept too far into the end zone. Am I missing my own life?

Thus, the wistfulness: what am I missing?

And the swoon: I miss what I don’t even know I’m missing.