298 posts tagged life
(A brief exercise in creative non-fiction.)
She was the bearer of all the news you most wanted to hear. That guy you had a crush on? She could have sworn you two were going out. People were talking about you behind your back constantly, but all they talked about was how fantastic they were. You feared you were ugly; she thought you were so beautiful she had affixed your picture to her bedroom wall.
The trouble was, none of it was true.
Lena Dunham is at her best when she is ripping open the unspoken tensions and glossed over un-intimacies between friends. Take the “you are the wound” fight at towards the end of Season One, which felt at the time like an amalgam of five different arguments I had between the ages of 18 and 26.
So too it was with last night’s episode, which took the “core four” on a girls’ (pun not intended) weekend trip to the North Fork, a vacation spot “for people who think the Hamptons are tacky and don’t want to be on a beach that’s near a J.Crew.”
We open to a montage of Marnie playing the “perfect” middle-class hostess, gliding through a light-filled beach house to the strains of classical music, filling her friends’ bedrooms with artfully drawn place cards and fresh flowers. The illusion is shattered immediately when the others arrive off the bus from New York. “How was the ride?” asks Marnie. “I need to fucking piss so badly, I’m going to shit myself,” Hannah replies.
It quickly becomes clear that Marnie’s plans for an intimate, Instagram-friendly bonding weekend are not shared by her friends. When Marnie tells Hannah she’s arranged for them to have adjoining rooms, Hannah is visibly disappointed. When Marnie grits her teeth in the cold, choppy sea, insisting that “it’s the best swimming conditions imaginable, I’m having the time of my life,” Jessa says she “can’t go in open water unless [she is] menstruating” and Hannah complains about the sharp pebbles on the beach. “I thought this would just be a nice opportunity for us to have fun together,” Marnie says when she joins them on the shore.
Later, when they go into town to buy groceries, Hannah runs into her ex-boyfriend Elijah, who is visiting with a couple of friends and his new boyfriend, played by Danny Strong of Jonathan-on-Buffy fame. Hannah invites the guys back to the house the girls are staying at, and what ensues is several hours of backstabbing, eavesdropping, debauchery, drunkenness and Broadway dancing sessions, in which everyone seems to be having fun except for Marnie. Unsurprisingly, it all culminates in a “you are the wound” level blow-out at the end of the episode, when everyone involved basically admits they hate each other.
This episode wasn’t fun to watch, per se. It was painful to observe four, and later eight, people who clearly don’t like each other very much constantly pick at, undermine, and passive aggressively throw barbs at one another. At the end of the episode, I wanted to curl up in a ball and just lay there for a while.
But it was also the best episode of Girls I’d seen in a long time, and probably my favourite since Season One.
As the way I’ve recounted this story probably reveals, my sympathies lie with Marnie in this instance. I’ve been in her shoes: organised something with a group of friends in the hope that we’ll have a SuperAmazingAwesomeTime together, only to find that everyone but me is having fun and I really don’t want to be there anymore. I’ve looked across the room at people I normally love and felt like they were strangers, wondering how we ever came to be friends in the first place. In short, I’ve felt the kind of “alone” that Marnie felt in last night’s episode, and I can attest that it sucks.
And as in the show, these feelings always seem to happen – or perhaps they just always feel more acute – on a trip away. Prolonged and enforced proximity, I suppose.
I’ve trawled a bit around the internet this morning, so I know that I’m not in the majority in regards to my sympathy for Marnie. “Marnie is the WORST,” one of my friends said on Facebook. “She is literally a psychotic perfectionist,” wrote someone on TelevisionWithoutPity. And certainly, there are things that Marnie could have done to make the weekend more enjoyable for herself and her friends. Let go for instance, and accept, however sadly, that what is fun for her is not the same thing as what is fun for the people she is friends with. And vice versa. Maybe it’s time for her to find some new friends.
But although I don’t usually relate to Marnie’s “pretty girl problems,” I certainly sympathised more with her failed attempts to create the “perfect weekend” than I did with any of the other girls. (If they all hate her so much, I wondered, why did they go on holiday with her in the first place?) And I’ve found her flailing this season the most interesting of the four storylines, although I also think Jessa and Shosh have a whole bunch of narrative potential that is not currently being tapped. It’s Hannah and Adam I’m sick of hearing from, really.
Like I said above, this episode left me feeling like I needed to have a long lie down. It was sad, and not just for the girls either: Elijah’s puppy dog sadness at the hands of his quasi-abusive boyfriend left me equally hurting. But it also felt a lot more real than the friends-as-platonic-soulmates peppiness that permeated, say, Sex & The City.
Because as anyone who has ever had a soulmate - platonic or otherwise - knows, part of getting that close to someone means giving them license to break your heart every now and again.
Elsewhere: Pretty Girl Privilege (LA Review of Books)
An oldie, but a goodie.
It feels vaguely blasphemous to be writing about how great it is to be single on my first Valentine’s Day as a married person. But given that some quick fraction work reveals that I’ve spent just over 85% of my life so far as a single person (by which I don’t mean “unmarried”, but not in any kind of romantic relationship at all), I feel it is a subject that I know something about. Sure, a lot of those years were when I was a child, but my point still stands.
I wasn’t a great single person. In fact, I was probably about the worst kind of single person there is. I wasn’t a Sex & The City-type woman with expensive shoes and cocktails, confidently eating up every man who crossed my path. I was that girl who would whine incessantly about being single, who would burst into tears and lay in bed listening to angsty Liz Phair songs whenever a fledging relationship fizzled out.
Intellectually, of course, I knew that all this was ridiculous. (I was well versed in my feminist literature.) But intellect wasn’t enough to override the emotional impacts of a lifetime diet of Dolly, Girlfriend and Dawson’s Creek. In which dating was just what people did, whether you were 12 and going to your first middle school dance (The Babysitter’s Club), 16 and hanging with your beau at the local milk bar (Sweet Valley High), or 17 and hooking up with your lab partner because you don’t want to go to college a virgin (Britney Spears’s Crossroads).
Plenty of people I went to high school with didn’t date: I went to a girls’ school, and the boys my friends and I met were few and far between. But that didn’t mean that we didn’t internalise the messages that we received from the popular culture that engulfed us. We “knew” that teenagers were “supposed” to date, party and be plagued by sexual temptation. And we “knew” that girls who had boyfriends were superior to the ones who didn’t. I still recall the instant boost in popularity one of the girls in my Year 7 class experienced when she was asked out by a guy on the train.
So when I grew up and my life looked nothing like Sweet Valley High, I took it to mean there was something wrong with me. That I was somehow defective, unattractive, abnormal. I never felt so defective that I was willing to enter into a relationship with someone I didn’t actually like, but I spent much of my youth with the niggling sense that there was something lacking in me.
Sometimes I wonder if, maybe if I’d spent only 70 or 80 percent of my life single (as opposed to my current 85 percent), I would have felt differently. If I would have then been one of those single people who loved being single; who actively chose it instead of feeling like it was chosen for them.
Because the truth is, being single actually was kind of fantastic. And while I didn’t always enjoy it at the time, I can see now that it actually shaped my life in all sorts of fantastic ways.
Being single gave me the time and space to cultivate some amazing friendships; the kind of friendships people write stories about. It meant that when Mr Musings (someone with a similar ratio of single to not single time as myself) and I got married a few months ago, we were able to do so in the room filled with friends. Not just people we had passed the time with, but people with whom we had shared our lives and true intimacies, in a manner that is frankly difficult to do when you’re investing all your intimacy into one person.
Being single meant I had the freedom (and again, the time – this one is so important, I think) to throw myself into my interests, enmesh myself in my community(s), to try new things out and, yes, to ultimately discard them if I found they didn’t work for me. It meant I could hold down a job, freelance, do a PhD and still have time to go out three or four nights a week. In temporarily forgoing one facet of the richness of life, I was able to experience more of so many others.
Having spent so much of my life single means that I will never (I hope, at least), be one of “those” coupled people who organises exclusive “couples weekends”, feels awkward about inviting single friends to dinner, or tells their single friends, “you know, maybe you’re just too picky”.
Being single gave me a foundation: of friends, of genuine intimacies, of what I was passionate about. It meant that when I did end up in a relationship with someone I wanted to stay with, I knew what I wanted from life, and to choose someone who wanted basically the same things.
That’s not to say that serial monogamists can’t have these things, too – I know plenty who have – but I do think that having that wealth of time to myself in the first half of my twenties helped me to achieve them.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine – a friend whose ratio of single time to coupled time is even higher than mine is – wrote an email wondering if, as a “perpetual bachelorette,” she was destined for a future of boredom and loneliness. The irony is that this particular friend leads one of the most vital, inspiring lives of anyone I know, filled with tight knit friendships, passions and projects.
The point isn’t that the grass is greener on the other side. The point is that both sides of the proverbial meadow are green… even if we don’t always appreciate it at the time.
Related: Welcome to the Institute for Sweet Valley High-related cultural studies
Wanting to be with someone you LIKE means you’ll be alone FOREVER
The Musings of an Inappropriate Woman Guide to Feminist Wedding Planning: Part 5: The Opposite of War Isn’t Peace, It’s Creation.
Image via caradelevingnefan.
Working my book introduction this morning, I stumbled upon this golden oldie journal entry. It tugged at my heart.
There are, I think, certain implicit and unavoidable problems that arise when one attempts to start a relationship on the back of a pretty dismal relationship history.
Forgive me if I’m wrong - and I know these things aren’t absolute - but I think that when most of us hit adolescence and first become interested in our preferred sex, our standards aren’t generally that high. I, for example, would routinely develop crushes on boys I caught the bus with, without ever having spoken to them or having any idea what they were like. My friends developed crushes on boys they debated against, on boys who sat a few rows behind them in tuition, and of course on boys they spied on across the school grounds.
It wasn’t about deep love, connection, or even any genuine like: it was about a base, usually not even particularly strong, physical attraction, coupled with the desire for a boy - any boy - to be interested in you.
Some of us realised that desire, a realisation that was made infinitely easier if you were one of those girls who attended the cool parties, or you did some extracurricular activity like church, debating, or prefectdom - or even just if you went to a co-ed school.
The second lot of love interests to enter our lives were the first ones we really liked - not just because they were a hot girl or boy, but because we actually liked them. For them. The first people who made us spin around crazy, our first soul mates, the first people to break our hearts. For most people I know, this stage came at around the age of 18 (as it did for me); more generally within the scope of 16 to 20.
For those of us who’d succeeded in attracting the attentions of group one especially, group two made for an extra special delight. The times before, we’d liked people, sure, in that loose sense, but this time around it was actually real and… oh. Just fabulous.
And then it ends.
For me, the problem is slightly unusual. I’ve had my group ones - my boys I liked and dated and flirted with because they were male, because they paid me attention, because I wanted to be in a relationship. I’ve had my group twos as well, but FF was, well, fucked for lack of a better word, MB was gay, and TP was in a relationship.
Nonetheless, I’m familiar with both the bitter and the sweet of unrequited love, the delight of the connection and the thrill in what one cannot have. I’m also familiar with the based-on-nothing-in-particular quasi-relationships most of us have indulged in at one point or another and some of us continue to indulge in throughout our lives for our own reasons. And, you know, I would argue that there is a thrill in that unrequited love, that just because the lips never quite brushed didn’t mean there wasn’t an intense emotional intimacy between the parties.
Like Andy Warhol said, sometimes the most exciting thing is not doing it.
Now, X is my first fulfilled holistic crush. The first boy who ever sent me dizzy over all the wonderful things he was (rather than me doing a quick mathematical equation in my head) that I’ve actually succeeded in going out with. And there’s no question to me that it’s better than my type one pseudo-relationships, but I guess the thing is that while I may know what it is to love and to be loved, and my heart may have little cracks all over it, I don’t really know what it’s like to actually get what you want.
I’m really not explaining myself properly. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t actually have anything to compare this to. That not having had a shit relationship means I’m not as over the moon about having a good one as I otherwise might be, and that similarly, not having had a good one (but yet having fallen in love and had my heart broken) means I lack a sense of realism about it. That you may be able to talk for hours on end, you may count down the days until you see them, you may jump on them and smother them with kisses whenever the opportunity arises, but it’s not a fucking fairytale. You don’t go all giddy over what is in the same way you do over what might be. Or at least I don’t.
And I guess the other thing that makes me uncomfortable is that I normally don’t behave like this. I normally don’t tell people my most intimate secrets (rushed and spluttered though that truth may be), or let them see me in my underwear.
And while it never feels wrong at the time, I can’t help but listen to that niggling little voice in my head that asks, “How do you know you’re doing the right thing?” At what point does it become this big commitment that you can’t change your mind and back out of? At what point should you stop on the chance you might change your mind next month and want to back out of it?
But maybe the thing is that nothing’s a fairytale. Things can be good, and yes, there’s a magic in chemistry and connection, but life isn’t a romance novel except when we’re writing it down and choosing our words carefully. I remember thinking that L’s relationship with E was fairytale-like at one point, but on a few years’ reflection it occurs me to me that she wrote those entries when she was broken up and broken-hearted, a moment at which most of us would be able to find the right words and the right moments to make whatever we were longing for sound like a fairytale.
I’ve been listening to Lorde a lot over the past few weeks. Probably my favourite thing about her music, lyrically speaking, is the way she writes about growing up on the periphery. The low-fi mundanity of teenage life outside the Hollywood industrial complex. Of riding the train to a party with no money in your pocket, and spending your youth in a place where the default expectation is that your stories will never be told on a global stage. (And no, Lord of the Rings doesn’t count.)
In Lorde’s case, this state has often been framed as a specifically New Zealand experience; a country that is removed from the hegemon (that’d be the United States) several times over. But removed from the hegemon or not, it seems to me that Lorde’s sense of being isolated from its possibilities is not unique to her, or to New Zealand. Gwen Stefani grew up a 45 minute drive from Hollywood, but she still wrote a song for her second solo album in which she marvelled at how “for a girl from OC” what she had achieved was “almost unheard of.”
It reminds me of a book I read several years ago, The Bogan Delusion, which looked at inner-city Australia’s unease with its outer suburbs. In it, the author makes the point that there are maybe ten suburbs in each city that weren’t dismissed as “bogan” (an Australian slang-term referring to someone who is uncultured and lower class – think “chav” in Britain), or if not “bogan,” then middle-class suburbia with “bogan” values.
One of my issues with the book was that I didn’t think it captured the true complexity of Australia’s class system, or the relationships between different subcultural groups. The fact that, for instance, “bogans” weren’t necessarily working class in the economic sense, and that people who lived in the inner city, or who worked in occupations with high intellectual capital, weren’t necessarily financially rich. Often, they earned less than the so-called “bogans.” For the most part, the “bogans” and “non-bogans” it identified were just different breeds of middle-class people, with different interests, advantages and priorities.
The point of this tangent is that just as most suburbs in Australia are broadly “bogan,” so too are most people, like Lorde, born on the periphery, to greater and lesser extents. For all but the most socially, economically and culturally privileged, the centre – whether it is a rented sharehouse in inner Melbourne, a party in Manhattan, or a Song of the Year Award at the Grammys for your debut single – is nothing short of a marvel.