Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some essays, essaylets, essay-things

I wrote an essay on crying (joyous crying, proud crying, frustrated crying, sympathy crying, pain crying) for The Butter. (Thank you to Roxane Gay for publishing it.) Here's an excerpt:

I have always hated Sundays. Everything seems worse on Sunday nights, just like everything seems worse when you wake up at 3 a.m., each obligation and annoyance in your life a heavier burden. The worst kind of tears are frustration tears, when you cross the can’t-take-it-anymore threshold for some usually trivial reason, an inaccurate medical bill or horrible customer service agent. I’d rather cry from physical pain than frustration, though I can’t remember the last time I was injured badly enough to cry. I cried a little when I sprained my ankle doing long jump in high school, but I’ve never broken a bone. When I was 26, I got 13 stitches in my chin after fainting toward a French door and breaking a pane of glass with my face. Amazingly, this did not hurt at all. Not at the time, when I was unconscious, and not later, at any point during the stitching up or removal of stitches. The lack of pain, and the fact that I didn’t actually experience the fall, makes the “memory” cinematic; I picture it happening from the vantage point of the bed in the room; I see me stumble from the bathroom to the French door and down to the hardwood floor, where I later woke up, or was shaken awake.

I wrote an essay about punctuation (arcane commas, wrong commas, double equals, interrobangs, James Salter, Mary Norris, etc.) for the Smart Set. (Thanks to Richard Abowitz for publishing it.) Here's an excerpt:

I read Light Years just over a decade ago, when I was in grad school, during what turned out to be the last year of living with the first love of my life. I remember, as I often do, the room in which I read it, since I inevitably pictured the events of the novel happening in that room. (This creates cognitive dissonance, since Nedra and Viri would have had nothing to do with the cheap futon we used for a couch.) Beyond the languid quality of the prose, the suburban narrative like a dressmaker’s dummy on which to hang all that lush, sensual description, I only remember one scene from the novel, a fragment of a scene, where a man luxuriatingly humps a woman from behind. A cuckolding, with pillows. (One gets an impression of Salter as a man who enjoys sex most especially in the past tense, retelling it to himself.) I can’t help picturing this scene superimposed over that futon, which was only pulled out to serve as a bed when my boyfriend and I were no longer sleeping together, literally or figuratively, since he’d begun sleeping with somebody else.

Also, I wrapped up my Style Guide column for Real Pants. Thank you to Adam Robinson and Amy McDaniel for inviting me to write there. You can find all the columns here.

Here's a bit from the latest one, on youth and beauty

I’m convinced I hit peak beauty at age 25. My husband sweetly insists I look better now, but the numbers are on my side: According to data from millions of users on OkCupid, the men that women rate as most attractive age along with them; at 40, they like 38-year-old men. Men, on the other hand, continue to rate 20- to 22-year-olds as most attractive until they’re 50. (This is called the Wooderson Rule, after the character in Dazed in Confused who says “I get older, but they stay the same age.” Check out Dataclysm by Christian Rudder for more insights along these lines.) Recently I ran across a stack of old pictures from my grad school graduation. “I sure was pretty when I was 25,” I tweeted, and a friend replied, “Just about all young people are pretty.” Certainly everyone looks good in old photographs, with their dated hair and silly clothes and bigger smiles. When I think of old photos, I think of people looking happier.

Thanks for reading! XOXO, Gossip Girl

Friday, March 6, 2015

Some notes toward an essay on male jealousy

Interesting how men will never admit to being jealous; they always claim it’s some other, more refined emotion. (Perhaps protectiveness on your behalf.) They must bristle at the stereotype of the simplistic, brutish, jealous man. But come on: Men often are simplistic and brutish, even when capable of gentleness and complexity.

Men also insist on distinguishing between envy and jealousy, as if we don’t know the difference. What does this buy one, anyway? Someone on Twitter said, “Jealousy is the gin, envy is the vermouth.” I love that, but what could it mean? Wanting what others have makes their wanting what you have more delicious?

In my experience, by and large: When a man is interested in you or has some claim over you, any amount of attention you pay to another man is too much. The assumption is not necessarily that you’re attracted to this third party, but that you’re “leading him on.” (Oh boo-hoo.) For some unclear greater good, you should make the terms of the relationship 100% clear. What men who want this don’t realize is: one, clarity is in the eye of the beholder and two, there are social consequences for that kind of behavior. (To quote Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever, “I bet it begins with a C.”) Further, drawing clear lines can be a kind of provocation, an invitation to cross them. For women, simple kindness is a kind of neutrality – conflict avoidance as strategy.

This expectation that women will define the terms is closely related to the common wisdom that whatever attention you attract from men is your own fault: the “she was asking for it” school of thought. And further, that career-wise you’re consciously using men, manipulating situations to “get ahead.” Multiple times (but only by men) I’ve been told I got one or another opportunity because somebody wanted to sleep with me. The sad thing is, it’s probably true.

Men want it both ways: You’re supposed to be suspicious of all other men and their nefarious intentions, but not the man who is imparting said wisdom to you; he has transcended. But by showing suspicion they are playing their hand: Men are jealous because they know men’s nature.

I have an ex who was rarely jealous, that truly rare specimen. The only time I ever saw him react with jealousy was when we were breaking up, after a five-year relationship. We had agreed to see other people (completely his idea, an idea I went along with only in hopes of saving the relationship). I spoke candidly of flirting with someone at a party he hadn’t attended, my way of proving to him that I was making an effort; later that week we ran into the guy at another event, and I pointed him out. My ex turned hostile. I was astonished – he was jealous! Of this performance I was doing for him!