my shine

don’t take away my shine
my shine is all I have
my heat, my love, my beauty and my glad
It worries me sometimes that I want love
and live a life of sad

- Daniel Lanois, Fire

love watching madness

Horribly beautiful! but on the verge,
From side to side, beneath the glittering morn,
An Iris sits, amidst the infernal surge,
Like hope upon a death-bed, and, unworn
Its steady dyes, while all around is torn
By the distracted waters, bears serene
Its brilliant hues with all their beams unshorn:
Resembling, ‘mid the torture of the scene,
Love watching madness with unalterable mien.

- Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Real

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. … You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

- The Velveteen Rabbit

I remember when

I remember when the whales had wings, she said. Whatever happened? I said. It got to be too noisy with all the airplanes & other stuff, so they flew into the ocean & never came back. Some days, she added, I think about going too.

- Brian Andreas

the waiting place

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

- Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

The Geography of Desire

I had the good fortune recently to go out on a date with a lovely man, just my level of smart, morbidly funny, artsy, and devilishly attractive. We had an engaging conversation, good rapport, and the kind of sexual tension they milk for at least three seasons on primetime television. When we parted ways I thought, like an aced job interview, that all I had to do at that moment was wait for the callback.

But I guess, like most interviews, there’s always some conversation you weren’t privy to that changes everything, some little thing you did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, or perhaps it was that your shoes didn’t match your suit. Maybe there was broccoli between your two front teeth for hours, or maybe you snorted when you laughed? How can anyone ever know?

I received a text from him, days later, flirty and casual, to which I responded with restrained gusto. This continued on for a short while, and then nothing for hours, until he finally texted something about me being a “great woman,” but “geographically undesirable.” We live 80 miles apart, so while it’s a fact, it wasn’t a reason. I put my phone down and furrowed my brows. Again. Again with the geography.

Nothing is ever just about geography, in the end. I actually used to believe that it was. I used to think, oh, but if we simply lived closer together, it would be romance and butterflies and rainbows and unicorns. The thing I never realized is that it was all those things, but all of those things are invariably frightening, in the way that getting exactly what you want with no warning is cataclysmically shocking because you don’t expect it and never believed it would happen. So when the potential for unicorns is there, people freak out a little bit, and they look for something tangible behind which to hide. In my experience, this is always geography.

Geography ups the risk level of what might otherwise be a reasonable gamble. So if you’re already afraid, you’re going to be even more conservative when you realize there’s rush hour and rail schedules and bridge tolls in between you and another person. In the end though, what I’ve learned after years of the “geography” rationale is that it’s not about me, it’s about that particular man’s risk and reward tolerances, all of which are bound to palpable complexities he feels the need to address much too far in advance. Why? Because this is what everyone does when they hesitate.

The thing I always forget to bank on is the immutability of being male. As a woman, in my moments of profound certainty, those instances where I know what I want and can see it in all of its corporeal clarity, I do not have existential doubts. Men seem to always have these. Even when angels and trumpets are coming down from their Monty Python paper clouds to signal to them the path they should take, they are never free from the practical, because logistics help them to avoid the uncomfortable sensation of emotion. Geography is an excellent example of this type of detail.

I’ve tried to solve the geography “problem” in the past by suggesting one or both of us move. Usually, I suggest that I move, since I’m always the one with fewer obstacles in my head. The typical response is first disbelief, and then, “Oh but no, you can’t do that.” Of course not. Because if you’re afraid, geography is not a fixable problem. It’s permanent. This of course leads me to believe that it was never geography to begin with. If it was, someone could just move. Instead, it’s something he won’t admit to, like fear, fear of me, fear of desire, fear of getting exactly what he wants. Or maybe it’s just Occam’s Razor and he simply doesn’t like me that much. I’ll probably never know. What I do know is that turning down opportunities that have the potential to be totally awesome due to fear of enjoying them too much and developing a dependency on them is pretty common human behavior.

I have a friend who plays arena polo with me. We started polo at nearly the same time, having both ridden horses for years before getting hooked on the sport. As of a couple of years back, I stepped up to playing grass polo full time, still playing arena once a week and vigorously encouraging her to do the same. Polo, for some context, is more addicting than heroin and a lot more expensive. The outdoor (grass) as opposed to the indoor (arena) variety, doubly so.

“No,” she said, “I don’t need to get addicted to grass polo too and then spend more money on that.”

I have to say, the reasoning here, at least to me, was somewhat unbelievable. She would rather deny herself an incredible amount of fun, than spend money she could be saving. Now, don’t confuse this with not being able to afford it. Just like me, she works in the valley and does just fine for herself. It was an actual, uncoerced, denial of pleasure, with the stated reason that it’s better to avoid doing something she might enjoy than finding out she enjoys it and thus having to go through the “pain” of spending money on it.

She’s not even going to try it, because to dabble is to tempt desire. Buddhism suggests that desire is the root of all suffering. But the fact is, very few of us are going to go up and sit on a mountaintop and not own or want for anything. In normal, everyday life, avoiding desire is like avoiding air. Eventually you’ll just turn blue in the face and feel extremely uncomfortable. We can spend our lives taking in as little air as possible so as not to get that oxygen rush you get when sticking your head out of a car on the highway like dogs do (one of the few species that knows how to live the good life, better than we do), or we can learn to breathe, we can learn to love adrenaline, and we can know that while we may want more once we experience it, it’s a healthy, driving, desire.

That same friend used to, for work, identify supply chain management problems in the factories of second-world countries like the Czech Republic. During one of her visits, she observed a factory worker whose job it was to put plastic zip ties on every bag coming down the conveyor belt. She remarked, “I would go stir crazy if I had to do that job. I’d hate my life, knowing that’s what I was going to do forever and ever!”

I said to her, “But how do you know she wants to do anything else? How do you know she wants something other than the world that she knows?”

“I guess….” she replied, unconvinced. “I don’t see how you could be happy with that life.”

“Look at it this way,” I said. “Let’s say you’re aware of the existence of a place called Planet Paradise. It costs $1 billion a ticket to visit Planet Paradise, and you have to ride a spaceship to get there, so you pretty much know you’re never going to go there. You hear about Planet Paradise anecdotally, through friends who have never been there, and you even hear about it through the couple of billionaire friends you have who have also never been there. Either way, it doesn’t have that big of an impact on you because it’s just something you’ve maybe seen occasionally on TV, if that. You continue on with your life in Silicon Valley, going to work at your computer, decorating your house in the burbs, and playing arena polo on the weekends. Everything is pretty good.

“Now let’s say that one day one of your billionaire friends says, ‘Guess what, I have an extra ticket to paradise, wanna come with me?’ And you’re like hey, ok, a free ticket to paradise, I am so there! Your friend says it’s only for the weekend, but you don’t care, because you’re going to paradise! So you go, and it’s amazing, unbelievable, indescribable, basically, it’s Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island on steroids, the forever high, a perpetual orgasm. And then you come back after the weekend is over, and on Monday you go to your desk job in Cupertino and you think, damn, I really wish I was still in paradise right now. Your coworkers, on the other hand, seem pretty happy doing what they’ve always been doing, but you, for the next three weeks, you’re a disagreeable wreck. ‘I didn’t know how lame my life was until I went to paradise,’ you’ll snivel and whine to an acquaintance of yours who’ll roll her eyes in disgust. Now, my friend, what you’ll be suffering here is desire.

“If you gave that factory worker in the Czech Republic a ticket to your life for a weekend, she might think, hey, this ain’t so bad. I make good money, I don’t have to do manual labor anymore, I own a house, and I play arena polo. Now send her back home to the Czech Republic. Is her respectable job putting plastic zip ties on bags so compelling anymore? Probably not. And there’s the problem. If you don’t know how good it can be, then it’s unlikely you’ll spend your waking hours yearning for it and wondering what it would be like if you had it again. You also won’t have to deal with the problem where you have to spend $1 billion, get in a spaceship, and fly to Planet Paradise every time you want to go there. Or in the case of the Czech girl, $1500 and 14 hours in the worst coach seat imaginable on Lufthansa.”

Paradise, being potentially amazing but otherwise an uncertain thing, carries a level of risk with it that people fear. Logically, it’s better to have never known paradise and be content with what you have, than it is to get a taste of it and spend the rest of your days trying to figure out how to get back. But no one ever said that logic made for a satisfying life. Perhaps what’s really unfortunate is fearing to find out more, being afraid to enjoy something or someone and wanting them again, and making up excuses to avoid things you have the potential to love due to a host of connected inconveniences. Maybe the true disaster here is walling yourself out of your own personal paradise.

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