…Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all except I was lonely and there Joaquin was 20 feet high on the screen and looking deeply kissable? Maybe it means—though good Christian women who are trying to work on their relationship with God aren’t supposed to feel this way—maybe it means I just need to get laid. Sigh…
Joaquin’s not my usual drug of choice. I’ve gone through a number of crushes over the years starting with Matt Dillon when I was a tween (though I don’t think “tween” was yet a word when I qualified as one). In recent years, it’s been Matthew McConaughey, Christian Kane, Michael Fassbender. I was on a George Clooney kick for about a decade, but that faded a few years ago. I read a few interviews with him where it struck me that he was a man who always needed to be in control of the situation, or at least that’s how it came across in the interview, and his control freakism was a huge turn-off. (What do they say—you dislike in others what you dislike most about yourself?)
What I’d really like to write in this next paragraph is something about how looking at the personalities of the men I choose to crush on has been revelatory to me about what I value and don’t value, at least theoretically, in a man I might actually meet and have a relationship with. But the elephant in the room I rarely talk about is that they are all white. Yes, I think Lenny Kravitz is gorgeous. Ditto for Boris Kodjoe and Idris Elba. But they’re not the ones I’m planning a meet-cute with.
No one wants to be THAT woman–the woman of color who prefers white men. Lord knows I do enough in my life that has made numerous black people over the years tell me I’m not really black. So to point out another piece of evidence you can use to prove that case is not really in my best interest. But while I still hesitate to own this fact out loud (you have no idea how much I want to hit the delete button right now), I have, in fact, thought a lot about why that’s the case.
I don’t consciously think white is right or better or smarter or some magic pill to happiness. (I add “consciously” cause let’s face it, we’ve all bought into the advertising about skin color, weight, height, accent, etc. in one way or the other to some degree even if we’re not conscious of it.) But I really do think that a great deal of my choice for the other is that I’m choosing someone who doesn’t look like my father. Or like my uncles. As if by choosing someone who doesn’t look like them I’m somehow guaranteeing that I won’t get cheated on repeatedly, emotionally abused, devalued. In many ways my uncles are great men (and, to hear his friends tell it, so was my father.) But what I learned from them as a little girl, when they’d forget I was in the room and smart enough to figure out what was going on, what seeped through my skin and right down to the bone as they joked about their affairs and their illegitimate kids, was that men couldn’t be trusted. And since all the men I was around at that time were brown men, since I saw the facts of why men couldn’t be trusted or depended on in nearly every interaction with my father, I internalized that even further as brown men couldn’t be trusted.
I’m not still a kid. The reality is I’ve been asked out by a few brown men recently and I’ve said yes. And some have turned out to be cheaters (what fun to get an e-mail from the angry wife of a man you thought was single!) and some have turned out to be nice men who just decided not to call for a second date. But still in my fantasy life, it’s still the white man I’m yearning for. I’m not sure if I should be concerned by that, or, given what happens in reality, not worry about it. Am I prejudiced against my own people? Does your fantasy life develop out of what you experienced in childhood and to that end should be taken with a grain of salt? What am I supposed to do with all of this evidence that I have a preference for white men? Where am I supposed to put that shame and that guilt? Should I even carry that around with me given that I don’t put that preference into action? Is this even something I need to be grappling with?
(PS You’re on my list of crushes, too. But I thought it would be weird to write that. And yeah, I was right.)
To be continued…
I should tell you how ridiculous I am sometimes. I should tell you how most of my best ideas and insights come from me being ridiculous. I should tell you how much I love writing found poems, that there’s a particular kind of lightning I feel pinging around inside me as I excavate the poem hiding in someone else’s text. I should tell you that I laughed nervously to myself when I decided to use Michael Fassbender’s interviews as the basis for a series of found love poems. I should tell you that I could make up the woman’s side of the conversation from my own hunger but I needed someone else to ghostwrite a lover. I should tell you that shame and hunger would appear in these poems even if those films didn’t exist. I should tell you that I never understood what I have in common with Wonder Woman until these poems. I should tell you that poems are fiction and true too.
“The Penultimate Proposal”
(from Found: A Love Story)
So, you’re in this prison on moral grounds?
Shall I show you something that’s really
going to make you laugh? We are prisoners
of a coming-of-age situation: bodies
deadpan, naked except for hunger.
Hero or monster, you must understand
hunger is a notorious maze, my heart just another
Is your silence how it feels just before
tender violence breaks out?
Tonight I decided to nix quality time with the blue-and-white couch in favor of pretending that I’m not socially awkward and actually know how to socialize with people. The occasion was a book swap party at the (glorious, art-filled, can I move in for a weekend and just write, write, write?!) pad of my writing buddy Philippa at which I knew I’d also get to finally meet our fellow blogging buddy Karen IRL. I was struck by how Pippa and Karen both felt like a safe harbor to me simply because we have started off the new year blogging together in what has become an atmosphere of mutual admiration and support. I am so grateful for that gift.
The premise of the party was that each guest would bring a book that changed his or her life inscribed with the reason why that book was the one they’d brought. I had planned to bring Jane Eyre (the first book of fiction in which I remember strongly identifying with the main character), figuring that I wouldn’t be able to find a copy of Journal of a Solitude in time (which is why I had blogged about it here instead of saving it for the book inscription). Serendipitously, I discovered a copy at Silver Spring Books this weekend so I printed out a copy of my blog post, wrote a long note about why I was including a copy of the blog post, and then inscribed the inside cover with one of my favorite Sarton quotes from that particular volume.
I spent a great deal of time talking with C., a young woman from Charleston (who it turns out knows my friend Cate who’s from an old Charleston family) about the challenges and opportunities of being a full-time writer. C. brought Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (a favorite of mine), and talked about how she identified with Franny’s twin states of joy and depression over her artistic success. I also spoke with Z, a young woman who was born in Poland, grew up in Germany, and now lives here. She told me that she identified with Pippa’s sense of cultural dissonance (that Pippa wrote about here), and ultimately I ended up swapping books with Z thanks to Pippa who insisted that Z needed to read Sarton. Curiously, Z and Pippa had brought the same book to swap—The Little Prince. In another moment of serendipity, I had actually been contemplating adding The Little Prince to my list of books to read this year as I couldn’t remember if I’d actually ever read it, and the fact that so many people treasure it both intrigued me and scared me.
Karen brought a book by Dave Barry, which satisfied her dual loves of humor writing and music. She swapped books with a drummer who gave her The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I’m borrowing once she’s done.) She talked about some of the excerpts she’d read during a humor writing workshop she’s just back from in Key West (read about it here), and I was surprised that the reading list included Moby Dick. (I can’t remember what the other surprising titles were—it’s past my bedtime—but Karen if you’re reading this, I’ll read Moby Dick with you when you get to it.) We talked about how much we both loved living alone, the price you pay when you surrender your singlehood, how you know if someone’s worth sharing with, and how when I move in with Michael Fassbender I will allow him to still smoke (okay, maybe I was talking about that last bit by myself).
I should mention that Karen and I also passed time with T., a young woman wearing gorgeous turquoise eye shadow who was torn between swapping Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and a little pocket-sized book of humorous anecdotes about romance. It was interesting that T. thought Ward’s novel was the kind of book she should swap because it’s “serious literature” yet it was so clear from her expression and voice that the other book was the one most dear to her. I suppose it’s a lot like how the Matt Dillon Quiz Book (pub date June 1983) is an important book to me because, let’s face it, why wouldn’t you want to know that Matt Dillon’s nicknames are Flick and Bounce, but also because it was a gift from my sister to me the year I turned 13, a hint of the deep friendship it would actually take us decades to develop.
At one point Pippa and I talked about the challenges of writing a daily blog, how in some ways it’s a little easier each day, and in other ways it becomes more difficult, especially if you insist on grabbing yourself by the heart and squeezing for each blog post. We’re each learning to accept that not every post has to be brilliant. It’s interesting that Pippa suffers on that front because she doesn’t consider herself a writer, and I suffer on that front because I do. I think ultimately, however, we both believe that truth trumps polish (and I believe we are both writers).
Karen and I left long before the party was over having bonded over our fellow introvert status and our dwindling stores of social energy (it’s amazing I work in PR, isn’t it?), but I am glad that we’ll continue to meet each other over the Interwebs and surely in person as well. And there’s a particular painting in Pippa’s apartment—in a little alcove by the patio door filled with a double row of books and sculptural treasures—that started whispering its poem to me as soon as I saw it, and I hope to be in conversation with both it and Pippa again soon.
I want to leave you with a quote from May Sarton that I think speaks to the reason why we all showed up book in hand, eager to share what had sustained us, taught us, compelled us, revealed us to ourselves. And I hope you’ll linger an extra moment to share what book you would have swapped and why, or maybe what book you might have hoped to receive…
“If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know all we can about each other, and we have to be willing to go naked.” — May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude (January 5th)
Michael Fassbender in my bed. (Photo of MF by Mark Seliger for Vanity Fair, March 2012)
1. When you write a found poem, it’s like looking at one of those “magic pictures” in the mall, you have to let your logic go slightly out of focus as your eyes roam the text, keep track of the phrases that glitter at you from the rows and rows of scribblings, let go of that compulsion to drive the story, and instead let the phrases rearrange themselves as they will. It’s like walking into the very messy office of the smartest person on your staff and just trusting it all makes sense.
2. The thing about being a practicing Christian is that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. With knowing that the Bible is true and you don’t get to pick and choose the passages you believe or don’t believe, the literal verses, the extended metaphors, but you have to believe it all even the places where it confounds you like the several places where it says that homosexuality is wrong that I can’t reconcile with the deep, abiding love I have for my gay friends.
3. I’ve known of several people who said yes to Christ and didn’t last a year, including my father, and well, Charlie Sheen, too. I think people are disappointed when Jesus isn’t Santa Claus. When life still sucks sometimes and is confusing and hard. When all your past mistakes don’t just disappear. But that’s just it. It’s not about our life, it’s about our service to others, that’s how it all works out. I mean everything goes wonky, including our lives, if we stare at them too hard, like how a perfectly innocent word—like “which” or “bulbous”—can suddenly look all wrong if you stare at it too long.
4. I am falling in love with the man who’s speaking in my poems. Or my poems are showing me the man I want to fall in love with. But I don’t want him to smoke. Even though once upon a time I loved a boy who smoked and wore Drakkar Noir and had a mullet. It was the late 1980s. Which is maybe an excuse. And I was lonely.
5. I don’t blame Chik-Fil-A for putting their money where their values lie. But the problem is that too many groups act as if homosexuality is a super sin of some kind, like it’s responsible for all of the world’s ills. What about poverty? What about lack of education? What about so many of our people sleeping on the street and eating out of garbage cans? Do they really think Jesus would go picket the funeral of an actor who appeared in a movie with gay themes when there were mouths to feed and parent-less kids to raise and comfort? Even if I let my eyes go all the way out of focus, I just can’t see the same Jesus they seem to be seeing.
6. A lot of life is about hunger.
7. I think that if I were to explain to Michael Fassbender about my poetry project, he’d get it. Because he’s Irish. And he has a sense of humor. But I could never tell George Clooney because he’s American. And American men are scared of poetry. Unless they’re poets. Or old hippies. Or went to prep school when girls still wore white gloves to school dances. I still remember how uncomfortable a musician I knew looked when I told him I was writing poems about his band. I think it was actual fear in his eyes. But I’ll be kind to the memory and say it was just discomfort. Who can blame him? They taught it to us all wrong.
8. You don’t have to get everything. You don’t have to understand everything. Sometimes just a phrase resonates. Or a series of sounds. Or a rhythm. Or just one image. Or sometimes the words just feel delicious in your mouth though altogether you’re not quite sure what they mean, and you don’t really want to know.
9. People want to know everything. We’re uncomfortable with faith. With having to acknowledge that someone else has a better answer than we do. Who are we if not the sum of what we know? I think we err when we measure success by the number of our answers rather than the number of our questions.
1o, Here’s a poem from the series. All of the found poems are from MF interviews. But i think maybe I told you that. Or maybe you follow me on Twitter. Or maybe you just know me too well.
“His Third Love Poem
Damn the consequences of trying to open myself up:
the repulsive, the naked, the dark ferocity.
We’re supposed to follow certain etiquette and behave.
If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna look at things without the sugar coating.
We have all these voids we try to fill in different ways.
I want to just do something good, to provoke
intimacy, see what happens underneath the veneer when
people break, when there’s no barrier.
Can we be more human in a way?
(Found in “Michael Fassbender by Josh Brolin,” INTERVIEW magazine, 2011)