I promised a (new) friend

I don’t write much these days, which is no revelation, but I promised a friend that I would start again, a little every day.

She’s actually a new friend. I met her online. That’s right on an online dating site and we are actually friends.

Question: Does this conflict with my rule that I do not write about any woman I have dated until I’m certain there is no longer a chance of any romantic involvement?

We are just friends after all. Yes, we did meet via an online dating site. And yes, we did go out a couple of times, but neither time was what one would classify as a date. When I suggested a real date is when she – we’ll call her Casey – told me that there was another guy that she’d met only just before meeting me and that while I was interesting and attractive to her and definitely someone she would consider dating she felt compelled to pursue this other relationship. But, she did enjoy meeting me and talking with me and hoped that we could possibly pursue a friendship.

Yeah, right. Sure. Whatever. That’s what I thought at the time. This sort of thing has happened before. It’s a standard brush off, because people don’t mean it when they say they want to try to be friends. That is what I have experienced, and as such I usually just move on. But that was not the case this time. It took some time to figure it out but Casey was/is genuine. And we are now friends. And I’m quite pleased with the friendship – it strikes me to have potential to be one of the more significant relationships in my life, at least for now but I sense there is a future there as well, whatever that might be.

But here is the rub —  no not that kind of rub; get your mind out of the freaking gutter – the guy she “brushed me off” for is now out of the picture, or so it would seem. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he’s currently exiting the picture, but not quite gone. So what does this mean?

Question a la When Harry Met Sally: Can a man and woman really be friends?

I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone knows. I’m not even so sure that it really matters.

I find that I have adjusted my perspective when it comes to “meeting people” now. In this way; before I had expectations, too many – I’d find myself futurizing (is that even a word?) about a relationship before it even had a chance to really begin. And that was always bad. Or it turned out badly in any case. So now, I try – as much as is possible – to simply be open to experiencing a relationship with a new person, and simply letting it be whatever it is going to be – friendship, romantic, etc. At least this way you can be sure that whatever it turns into it is genuine, or as close to it as possible, rather than something that one or the other or both people orchestrated, which seems so… phony, and ultimately sad.

Anyhoo…I promised Casey I would write. And there, I did.

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Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.

Because of John Cusak: a story

 

Because of John Cusack


It was because of John Cusack that I contacted Josie.

I was watching that movie “High Fidelity” (based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby) in which John Cusack plays a character named Rob who owns a record store in Chicago and who has made rather a mess of his relationship with his current girlfriend and in an effort to understand what went wrong with his life he looks up five ex-girlfriends, the top five.  I’m not sure if Josie even qualifies as one of my top five ex-girlfriends since we were never really together to begin with. (We never got the chance to get to that point. Our relationship, such as it was, never got passed the hooking up stage. How could it? I was sort of dating my now ex-wife at the time. And Josie was in the process of relocating from Michigan to California for her job. We met at work.) But she was special, I knew that. She was smart and sweet, and I liked talking to her, a lot. I thought talking to her now might offer me some insight into where I’d gone wrong in my life.

I have to admit, though, it was more than that. Because even though our relationship never got passed that initial charged infatuation stage, I was sure that the strong feelings I had for her were genuine. I just never got the chance to tell her how I felt. Like an idiot I let her leave without divulging my true heart to her. I was too scared too. And now, now that I was divorced and truly free to pursue something with her, I guess part of me wondered if it wasn’t possible for us to pick up where we’d left off.

I found Josie on Facebook. It was amazing how little time and effort it actually took. But once I did find her I was suddenly leery about contacting her, recalling how abruptly I’d cut off communication with her. Josie hadn’t left the company that we worked for; she’d only taken a position with a division in California. Even so I figured I’d probably never hear from her again. Or maybe I just hoped that I wouldn’t. You see, by that time my now ex was pregnant with our child. It was not planned. In fact, it happened at a time when we were probably on the verge of going our separate ways. My now ex had found out about my relationship with Josie and we’d broken up but for whatever reason we weren’t done with each other. Thus she got pregnant. Anyway, we decided that we wanted to have the baby and we figured we should at least try to do it together, as a couple. Of course, that turned out to be a mistake. In a way, I knew it was mistake from the beginning (I didn’t really love her) but I didn’t feel as if I had much of a choice, and I thought it was the right thing to do. But as it turned out I did hear from Josie again, although she wasn’t the one who made first contact. I had to contact her for a project that I was working on because she had previously worked on it, before moving to California. I sent her an email. It was professional, all business. She replied in kind, answering my questions. But later she sent another email, a casual one, which essentially left the door open for some kind of friendship. I never responded, because I didn’t feel as if I could, because I knew my now ex would not have approved, would have in fact been pretty pissed. So I just let it go. Josie never sent another email. Because of that I thought she might not be very receptive to a message from me now. In fact, it might piss her off. Even so I could not refrain. I had to at least try. So I did. I sent her message via Facebook, hoping she would friend me. And then I waited.

I’ve done other things in my life because of John Cusack. Well, because of his movies anyway. For example, because of his portrayal of Lloyd Dobbler in “Say Anything” I was, in high school, inspired to stand outside of Debbie Kanacki’s house with a boom box blaring a love song in hopes of winning her heart. I did not; she was mortified and her old man threatened to kick my ass. But that didn’t discourage me from dressing like Martin Blank from Grosse Point Blank – black suite, white shirt, thin black tie – for my ten-year class reunion and telling people that I made my living as an assassin for hire. Some people found it mildly amusing, most didn’t get it, though. I’m not sure why exactly but for some reason I identify with John Cusack. I think of him as my famous doppelganger. We’re approximately the same age and sort of look alike, or so I’ve been told. If a movie was every made of my life, I’d want John Cusack to play me. And I’d want Diane Lane to play the love interest, like in “Must Love Dogs,” because she is a “…rare constellation of attributes.”

When, after a couple of weeks, I didn’t hear from Josie, I figured she just wasn’t interested in communicating with me and I gave up hope of ever hearing from her again. That was that. I’d tried and failed, which was starting to feel like the story of my life. But as soon as I resigned myself she responded. And she was actually glad to hear from me. I was over the moon, filled with a sense of possibility that I assumed had escaped me for good. However, my excitement was soon deflated when I learned that she was married and had a child. That was disappointing, to say the least.

So there was no chance of rekindling any flame that had once existed between us. Fine. That didn’t meant I that I didn’t still want to talk to her. I did. I hoped that by talking to Josie I could gain some perspective on my current circumstances. Also, I was eager to hear Josie’s take on our relationship back then, what it meant to her, because I was sure that she had felt it was special, short-lived perhaps but intense and real. I wanted to be reassured at least that we could have been together had our situations been different.

Unfortunately, Josie was reluctant to discuss such things. She was glad to hear from me and sorry that my marriage had not worked out but she wasn’t really interested in rehashing the past. I told her that I understood, even though secretly I was crushed and wanted to beg her to please reconsider. I did not, though. I swallowed any such impulse.

My restraint was rewarded, however, when a few days after our initial email exchange Josie contacted me and for whatever reason was willing to talk about our past but only under the condition that we talk about it once and only once and then never again. From then on we could be email friends and discuss books or movies or whatever but never again our romantic past. I agreed.

I wanted to know how she remembered our relationship. I wanted to know if it jived with how I remembered it. She said she recalled it as being fun and interesting, that she’d found me smart and funny and enjoyed hanging out with me and talking. I was encouraged because what she said matched my memory of things, generally. But then she said something that profoundly disappointed me. She said that ultimately she hadn’t taken the relationship seriously, that she considered it just a casual fling. In part, because she was moving on and she hadn’t wanted to get to deeply involved with anyone, but also – and this is what really bothered me – that she didn’t consider me to be the kind of guy to get seriously involved with anyway, because, she said, I struck her as the kind of guy that was only interested in sleeping with a lot of different women. She said that wasn’t a judgment on me, just an observation. Even so I couldn’t help feeling hurt. I wasn’t mad at Josie, she was just telling me the truth. But it did make me sad. I was glad that we were not discussing this matter in person, and that she could not witness my dejected reaction.

Despite that I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what she remembered specifically?

What did I mean by specifically?
I didn’t want to lead her in anyway. I wanted her to remember things on her own and my hope was that what she remembered is what I remembered. But clearly she needed a little direction. So I said, Like the day we spent in Arbor. Do you remember that?

Of course, I remember that day. Quite fondly in fact.

Yes. But what do you remember about it?

Well, I remember you coming over to my apartment. And we went and had lunch at that thai restaurant. I remember walking around downtown Ann Arbor holding hands and spending several hours in Borders bookstore. Mostly what I remember though was going out to dinner with my sister and her husband. I remember how proud I felt because I was with this smart, funny, good-looking guy. And I remember later that night back at my apartment giving you really great head.

I of course remembered that too. How could I forget? It was the best blow job I’d ever gotten, before or since. When I came in her mouth I felt as if I was sinking into the floor and out of my physical body. It was amazing, almost transcendent. And I remembered everything she detailed, but there were other things that I remembered that she didn’t mention. Maybe she’d forgotten them or maybe she just didn’t bother to mention them, didn’t consider them important. Maybe she just wanted to get through this exercise and be done with it.

That night in Ann Arbor, I was supposed to be spending the night with my college friend, whose apartment was in Ypsilanti, but instead I drove into Ann Arbor to meet Josie. (This was before my now ex found out about my involvement with Josie.) I went to her apartment. We fooled around in her bed, making out and getting naked. We didn’t have sex. We did everything but. Afterwards, we lay holding each other and I distinctly remember her saying to me, “I’ve got you, I’ve really go you, don’t I.” I didn’t say anything. I just nodded, because I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that, but it seemed significant, genuine and true. I’d wanted her to remember that detail specifically, but she hadn’t.

I also wanted her to remember her saying to me – not that night, but another time – that she wanted to have six babies with me. I know, it sounds crazy, but I’m sure she said it. Maybe it was just a wild notion that popped into her head. Maybe she didn’t realize what she was saying it at the time, or didn’t recall saying it now. But I do remember her saying it, because is scared the crap out me, and yet it pleased me a great deal. I wanted the same thing, I just didn’t know that I’d wanted it.

And the other thing I remember was her suggesting that I come to California with her. I actually asked Josie if she recalled saying that, but she didn’t. I believe that just she didn’t remember saying it, but that she actually did say it, I know that she did. Maybe she was the kind of person who just said things carelessly and so forgot about them later.

My romantic construct of my relationship with Josie was slowly eroding. And I didn’t like it. But what could I do. I wanted the truth, as much as that was possible. And I was getting it.

I told Josie that I wished that we’d had sex just once before she’d left, but she was glad that we hadn’t, she thought it was better that way. I disagreed. Maybe it was just one of those things that men and women differ on, fundamentally.

The first time I saw the John Cusack movie “Serendipity” – not in the theater, on cable, late at night while my now ex was fast asleep in our bed – I found myself thinking of Josie. I hadn’t thought of her in years but suddenly there she was in my head again. It was intoxicating, just as our relationship had been. Just like the relationship between John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in the movie. In the movie the two characters meet serendipitously (thus the title) one night and fall instantly in love but since both are with other people they part, casting their faith in the belief that if they are meant to be together they will somehow meet up again one day. Maybe it’s not a spectacular movie but I was really hooked into it and in the end when the two get together I cried, silently, bitterly. I slept alone on the couch that night.

For a time Josie and I maintained a convivial correspondence, mainly through emailing but every once in awhile we’d chat online. I was enjoying our renewed relationship, such as it was, just having her to talk to was…rejuvenating.  And then out of nowhere Josie asked me if I wanted to meet for a drink. She was going to be in town for business. Of course, I jumped at the offer.

I couldn’t wait to see her. I felt that same giddy excitement that I felt when I first met her. I tried to tell myself that we were meeting as just friends, that this was not some romantic tete-a-tete, because Josie was a married woman with a child, but at the same time I couldn’t help wondering if there might be something more to our get together than just two people having a friendly drink. Maybe there was something specific that Josie wanted – no, needed to tell me face-to-face, something very important.

I arrived at the bar early and grabbed a table. I didn’t want us to have to sit at the bar. I wanted to be able to look at her, right into her eyes when we talked. I wanted to feel that spark, that soulful connection that I remembered.

When she didn’t arrive at the time we’d agreed to meet I didn’t think anything of it. She said she might be running late, because she had a long busy day at work. But then fifteen minutes passed and then a half hour. And then past a point that was reasonable. I wondered if something had happened, something bad. Like a car accident. Because if she was hung up at work wouldn’t she have called? I checked my cell phone even though I knew it was pointless. I would have felt the vibration. Maybe she’d texted me. But no, nothing.

I had another drink and waited.

I don’t know why I didn’t just call her. I mean, I was entitled to know why she was late, wasn’t I? But for some reason I couldn’t make myself dial her number. I guess because I knew what she would say, that she wasn’t coming. This way there was still a chance that she might show up. There was still hope.

I can imagine her entrance, like something out of a movie.

Tracing the grain of the wood table top with my finger, I look up just as she enters. She’s dressed in business attire, a dark skirt and white blouse, but she’s let her strawberry blonde hair down, probably undid it out in the car before coming inside, running her hands through the silky mass several times while checking  her look in the rearview mirror of her rental car. She smiles when our eyes meet, a little coyly, blushing slightly. The world seems to stop as she crosses the room, all eyes focused on her. Finally, she reaches the table and slides into the chair across from me. She beams beautifully at me. And I know that I’ve got her, I’ve really got her.

But of course that didn’t happen. Life isn’t like a movie. I just want it to be.

The ice melts in my glass.

Of books and jobs

Last night I was at the local Borders for a reading by Megan Abbott from her new novel, The End of Everything. It was an excellent turn-out, filling up all the allotted seats, leaving standing room only. I was happy to stand, eager to hear Megan read — she always does a fine job.

With the closing of Borders this reading may well be one of the last at this particular store. It’s sad. I’ve been hanging out at Borders bookstores since I lived in Ypsilanti, where I attended school at Eastern Michigan University, back in the lat 80s and early 90s. Back then there was just the one store in downtown Ann Arbor, and now it is going to close, leaving a big gap there. I’m not sure what bookstores are left in Ann Arbor. I heard that the small independent bookstore, Shaman Drum, was forced out of business, by Borders ironically (I think that’s ironic anyway…).

Also, I’ve heard that Barnes and Noble is not doing all that well either. Will they last? And if they don’t, what then? Will small independent stores fill in the gaps, or will all bookstores fall by the wayside, leaving only online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Where will authors give readings then? How will this effect publishing?

Of course, there’s also the impact on unemployment. The closing of Borders means the loss of thousands of jobs. And on another jobs-related note, NASA’s space shuttle program ended today with the final landing of the last shuttle, resulting in a loss of thousands of jobs as well.

This morning on the radio, on my way into work, after dropping my daughter off at her grandparents’ for the day, I heard reported that Michigan’s unemployment numbers inched up to 10.5% which is well above the national average of 9.2%.

Sideways

Watched the movie Sideways last night, one of those movies that I have seen countless times and would watch again and again and again given the opportunity. I love it. I’d say it falls into the category of perfect movie. If there is a flaw in it I have not found it…yet.

For those who don’t know this movie it is about two buddies, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who go away for a week to California wine country in order to celebrate before Jack gets married. Miles is a divorced suffering writer — and boy does  he suffer. While Jack is a carefree actor who is the epitome of the power of positive thinking. He’s also a playboy hell bent on getting laid during this  his final week of bachelorhood. And he does, much to Mile’s chagrin.

I loved this movie when I first saw it, before I was divorced. I even read the book, which was descent, but I prefer the movie. However, now that I am divorced it appeals to me even more. I understand Mile’s suffering in ways that I don’t think I did before. How could I?

I’ve been thinking particularly about one part in the movie. It’s the part when Jack is going to ho0k up with the chubby waitress after Stephanie (Sandra Oh), the women he not only has sex with but decides that he might be in love with, discovers that he is getting married and bashes his nose in with her motorcycle helmet. Jack and Miles are standing there. Miles is lamenting to Jack, wanting to know why he has to hook up with this stranger after all that has happened, that is going to happen, i.e. his impending marriage. And Jack explains to Miles that he, Miles, does not understand his, Jack’s, plight. What is his plight exactly? He does not say. Only that there is a plight. Made me wonder if Jack’s optimism is merely a mask for a deeper angst, that he feels the need to sleep with strange women, in spite of the fact that he’s about to get married, to prove something, fill some void, to what? It strikes me as a jab at the whole phoniness of “staying positive” attitude, that there is something inherently shallow about. It is disingenuous, dismissive. And that Miles, the sullen, miserable man, is the more authentic human being, the more admirable one.

I haven’t posted in awhile

Why?

Well, turns out that getting divorced has proven to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined. It’s sapped me of my of a lot of my enthusiasm. Not all. But most. And the longer I went without posting the harder it was to sit down and do it. I don’t know.

So is this my come back? I have not a fucking clue. May be that I’m just super bored tonight and needed something to break the tedium, to occupy myself while I sit here alone in my half-empty one-bedroom apartment. Or, maybe I’m finally emerging from my hibernation or whatever you want to call it, and I’ll be blasting out posts pretty regularly from now on. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There’s something about this time of year, just as it’s getting cold and the first snowfall of the year occurs. It reminds me of my more optimistic days, when I was a student at Eastern, sitting in my dorm, reading a paperback, and still firm in my belief that I would be a writer some day, a real writer, a novelist or short story writer, the Hemingway of my generation.

I guess that’s why I recently picked up my copy of “Bright Lights, Big City” read it again. It was the book that really made me want to be a writer. It was my permission book, the one that showed me that I could write about the experiences that I thought were relevant because they were my experiences.

It’s funny, you know. Bright Lights isn’t a very thick  novel. It’s not very complex either. But each time I read it — and I’ve read it a number of times, so many that I’ve lost count — I seem to find something new in it, see it in a different way. When I first read it it was the partying and bar-hopping and drug use that really struck me, because it reflected experience that I was familiar with. I graduated in 1986 and spent my early twenties in the late 80s. But this time it was the character’s heartbreak that really impressed me, that I connected with. I never really understood it before. But I do now. I really understand it. Unfortunately…

And like the last line of the novel reads, I, like the narrator, feel as if I need to learn everything all over again.

Ellis article

Here’s an interesting article about Brett East Ellis and his new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, the follow up to Less Than Zero.

I’m eager to read this novel, having been an Ellis fan since Zero was published — what is it? Twenty-five years ago now…

Although many people aren’t Ellis fans. I was part of a Facebook thread in which several people made negative comments about the book. One said it was “creepy,” although I’m not so sure that is a criticism. In any case, it does not surprise me. Other articles have made similar comments. Also, come on, Zero was creepy, and this is the same author that wrote American Psycho for crying out loud.  Others commented that they would not waste their money on this book, much less read  it. Of course that is their prerogative. But I guess I just don’t get it. Fine. Take issue with a book and/or author, make all the criticism you want, but you can’t judge what you don’t read. I don’t know. Just seems kind of petty to me.

In any case, Ellis hardly seems to care.