And why marry?

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The Divorce
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
At first it was an imperceptible tremor of the skin –
‘Whatever you say’ – where the flesh is darkest.
‘What’s wrong?’ – Nothing. Opaque dreams
of embraces, but on the morning after,
the other looks different, strangely bony.
Razor-sharp misunderstandings. ‘That time, in Rome –’
I never said that. Pause. Rapidly beating heart,
a kind of hate, strange. ‘That’s not the point.’
Repetitions. Brilliantly clear the certainty:
everything is wrong from now on. Odourless, in focus,
like a passport photo, this unknown person
with the tea glass at the table, eyes staring.
It is no use, no use, no use:
litany in the brain, a touch of nausea.
End of reproaches. Slowly the room
fills up to the ceiling with guilt.
The plaintive voice is a stranger’s, but the shoes
that drop with a crash to the floor, the shoes are not.
The next time, in an empty restaurant,
slow motion, bread crumbs, they talk about money,
laughing. The dessert tastes of metal.
Two untouchables. Strident rationality.
‘Things could be much worse.’ But at night
the vindictiveness, the noiseless struggle, anonymous
like two bony barristers, two big crabs
in the water. Then the exhaustion. Slowly
the scab peels off. A new tobacconist,
a new address. Pariahs, awfully relieved.
Shadows getting paler. Here are the papers.
Here are the keys. Here is the scar.

Original

Die Scheidung
Erst war es nur ein unmerkliches Beben der Haut –
“Wie du meinst?” -, dort wo das Fleisch am dunkelsten ist.
“Was hast du?”- Nichts. Milchige Träume
von Umarmungen, aber am anderen Morgen
sieht der andere anders aus, sonderbar knochig.
Messerscharfe Mißverständnisse. “Damals in Rom-”
Das habe ich nie gesagt. -Pause. Rasendes Herzklopfen,
eine Art Haß, sonderbar. -“Darum geht es nicht.”
Wiederholungen. Strahlend hell die Gewißheit:
Von nun an ist alles falsch. Geruchlos und scharf,
wie ein Paßfoto, diese unbekannte Person
mit dem Teeglas am Tisch, mit starren Augen.
Es hat keinen Zweck keinen Zweck keinen Zweck:
Litanei im Kopf, ein Anflug won Übelkeit.
Ende der Vorwürfe. Langsam fullt sich
das ganze Zimmer bis zur Decke mit Schuld.
Die klagende Stimme ist fremd, nur die Schuhe,
die krachend zu Boden fallen, die Schuhe nicht.
Das nächste Mal, in einem leeren Restaurant.
Zeitlupe, Brotbrösel, wird über Geld gesprochen,
lachend. Der Nachtisch schmeckt nach Metall.
Zwei Unberührbare. Schrille Vernunft.
“Alles halb so schlimm.” Aber nachts
die Rachsucht, der stumme Kampf, anonym,
wie zwei knochige Advokaten, zwei große Krebse
im Wasser. Dann die Erschöpfung. Langsam
blättert der Schorf ab. Ein neues Tabakgeschäft,
eine neue Adresse. Parias, schrecklich erleichtert.
Blasser werdende Schatten. Dies sind die Akten.
Dies ist der Schlüsselbund. Dies ist die Narbe.

Cat bites: Desperate Characters

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“‘You know what you sound like? A person who has just gotten a divorce and is telling himself that his whole married life had been nothing but torment.’ Otto sighed. ‘I suppose so.’” – from Desperate Characters, Paula Fox

There are strange parallels in Desperate Characters and the life I have observed in other middle-aged (and older) people. The malaise of long relationships – the kind that have occupied and eaten up the entirety of one’s adult life. The kind that are easy to take for granted, despite everything you have been through. You go have affairs or behave badly in some other way or you clam up because communication becomes the most difficult thing you could do with this partner-cum-stranger. You imagine the other person is out to get you; you kind of sleepwalk, focus on your own things, take up residence in separate bedrooms but still go away together to the country home or on holiday. Every couple copes in its own way. Often the status quo is the easiest and most comforting choice.

Descriptions of Desperate Characters refer to the central relationship as “loveless”, but I felt like it was truer to say that the tale chronicles a mundane marriage. Two people who have lived together for so long that they are immune to each other, are no longer paying close attention to each other. Yet coexistence is still comforting, if grating, and this keeps them together. Even when one or the other does something to potentially rupture the whole relationship forever, it’s still easier to return to the marriage. It is easier to try to ease the slow, dull ache of it than to do something dramatic. In the opening pages of the book, the heroine, Sophie, feeds and is bitten by a stray cat. This injury, and its radiating pain, potential infection and other consequences, represents the uncertain way her marriage to Otto festers. That is, the marriage might be much worse under the surface, like the cat bite, than even she realizes. She might be going along trying to convince herself that the marriage, and the bite, will be fine. (It’s not entirely coincidental that my mom’s cat recently bit her, and it got slightly infected; somehow it too could be an edgy expression of her own marital unhappiness.)

I’m giving this a lot of thought because I don’t relate – I cannot understand any of this from experience. I have never really been the one in a long, disintegrating relationship – together but lonely and feeling emotionally abandoned. I could intellectually relate to some bits, and could relate to the idea that sometimes you stumble into an affair, but as the “other party” who walks into the situation, you don’t know what is on the other side. Like the protagonist/narrator, Isadora, of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying throwing caution to the wind, leaving her husband behind to go on the road with spontaneous, flamboyant Brit Adrian, her ultimate “zipless fuck”, who constantly chided and prodded her about not being free enough – only to discover that he had had all along a schedule and a plan to meet his wife and family on a certain date, at a certain time, which struck her as the most ridiculously hypocritical turn of events. Sophie in Desperate Characters  has an affair that seems to peter out as the guy starts to cancel plans, recede into mentioning his supposed ex-wife more and more. Suddenly in these acts, hostile or not, you don’t know if you were just a diversion from this whole other, full life. Just a little break in the monotony of their “real life”.

“Only a few weeks after their affair had begun, she suffered powerful interludes of scorn in which she saw herself to be a fool, the fool. Her shifting judgments on herself revealed to her how her involvement with Francis had shoved her back violently into herself. In allowing himself to be loved by her, he had shown her human loneliness.”

“That they should be sitting across from each other in the same way they had sat for so many years and that the habitual intimacy between them could have suffered so wrenching a violation without there being evidence of it, was harrowing to Sophie. If, all these months, she had so ardently lived a life apart from Otto without his sensing something, it meant that their marriage had run down long before she had met Francis; either that, or worse—once she had stepped outside rules, definitions, there were none. Constructions had no true life. Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy. She knew where she had been, she thought.” -from Desperate Characters

Worse yet, of course, even Sophie, who had only had the one affair and wondered whether she would have the strength to have left her husband for this man had the option been open (but that was the point – she had no choice, and the option was not open – which is something to which I do relate), snaps in harsh judgment of her eternally single friend who drifts from one affair to another, exploding with:

““Why don’t you make a retreat for six months!” Sophie interrupted, shouting. “Don’t you know how dumb you are? You think because somebody’s husband sticks it in you, that you’ve won! You poor dumb old collapsed bag! Who are you kidding!” God, had she killed her dead? There wasn’t a sound at the other end of the telephone, not a whisper of breath. Sophie was trembling, her hands wet. Then she heard a kind of hiss that became words, spilling liquidly, like broken teeth from a hurt mouth. “You…filthy…cunt!”” (And then silence.)

In any case, I don’t have the answers because I just don’t have the experience. But I don’t buy that the love is dead between these characters. It disappears at times, absent, but not dead. There was a fluid lack of connection between the two, but it struck me as disconnection in the normal way people grow apart and continue to do so if they don’t acknowledge and address it together. In this case, the woman has had an affair. But ultimately the two remain married.

Some analysis on the book posits that the two are trapped. But are they? Perhaps trapped by the ease of just carrying on in the same way? Trapped by the safety of it but also trapped by the time spent – would you have the courage to leave if other options had worked? You end up trapped by the possibilities (and your inability to seize them) as much as you are by the routine, trappings of the relationship that defines you and your daily life.

Revisiting Divorce

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I cannot believe that I am writing about a show like Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce – again. I would have, when it began, sooner shot myself than watch it. And watching the first season, it was as bad as I feared. It was one of my big hate-watch shows. But in the subsequent seasons, it has sometimes knocked the wind out of its characters – shown them and their glitzy lives as being far from perfect, shown some struggles and shown the consequences of the girlfriends’ frequent poor decision making. It’s still totally unrealistic and the characters are a bunch of self-absorbed assholes. But there are tiny glimpses of realism now and then that humanize the nonsense and fluff.

And occasionally it hits some nerves. In the final episode of the latest season, messy, selfish protagonist Abby is newly entangled in an affair with a guy who is in the midst of a very fresh (as in, he has not even moved out of the house or started divorce proceedings) divorce. She tries to overlook all the warning signs, her constant string of hurts and wounds, his tendency to shut down and completely avoid her, because their connection, as she herself says, “It’s great, it’s rare, and that’s why we should stop now.” She had been through a divorce that dragged on painfully (as breaking up, particularly in a long and messily intertwined relationship, does) over the course of the first two seasons. The guy, Mike, tries to insist that he is solid and ready, but Abby knows from experience that he is wrong. She argues that everyone told her that you can write off the first full year after a divorce because you are and will be “certifiable”; she tells Mike she ‘ruined’ a man because she was so raw and not ready. Maybe the timing is wrong, they tell each other, so maybe the door is not shut forever, but for now, she has firmly closed it.

At the very end, I was relieved and uplifted, actually, by the fact that instead of chasing the man or relationship or changing her mind about closing the door, Abby has her ‘epiphany’ and runs to her former colleague and friend to enlist her help in launching a website for women their age. Not that love – or whatever – is not important – but it’s no more important than deciding you’re not taking any more shit, not going to answer to anyone else, and will not get tired of waiting while you’re being jerked around.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Girlfriends Guide to Divorce

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The only things this show gets right are: 1. divorce is hard, 2. even seasoned, beautiful women, perhaps especially the experienced, who should feel accomplished and professional, feel vulnerable and unsure – especially when their footing is pulled out from under them. Those are important themes. Otherwise, nothing about this show rings true.

I like series creator, Marti Noxon, and wrote a love letter about her surprising series, UnREAL. I have always loved Janeane Garofalo, but Garofalo’s character was a psychotic caricature (and probably why she exited the show almost as soon as she started). Lisa Edelstein is someone I can’t make up my mind about at all. I caught her call-girl/law student role in the first season of The West Wing (my recent binge indulgence), and it didn’t do anything to tip the scales either way.

But bottom line, regardless of whether everyone in this show is wealthy and privileged, having had some kind of high-powered position (or being the recipient of major divorce settlements), it is not realistically presented. Edelstein’s character complains about money and how she doesn’t understand how she will make ends meet after she loses her writing contract and her husband (who was never earning money anyway, I guess)… but then everything seems to work out without any explanation or real struggle. And Edelstein’s character has two children – they are mostly invisible. Rearing children is hard with regard to time and money, and assuming there is not a nanny (I have not seen one – and supposed they could not afford one any longer), this is not a big enough part of the story to be realistic. Sure, it’s a fictional show – what does it matter?

Another gripe I have with show and most shows on television is the fluidity and ease with which people hit on each other, as if all of life is this smorgasbord. Maybe it is just that people don’t hit on me every time I go to the grocery store, my kids’ school, the cafe, at work, a casino, every party, etc. but somehow I don’t think things sail quite this smoothly in reality. Why else would people complain in reality about how hard it is to meet people? But we’ve got to flatter these actresses, I guess, or make up storylines.

I do not think I will be back for the second season unless I need something to roll my eyes at.

Dreams, Divorce and Geography

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I dreamt the other night that I was spending a lot of time with actor Kevin Bacon. Probably this infected my brain because I am still, somehow, inexplicably, watching the dismal, horrible, stupid, frustrating and badly written tv show The Following, of which Bacon is one of the stars. I have never been much of a Bacon fan at all – and shows like The Following don’t change that. In my dream, Bacon and I had a number of conversations, but where my brain finally let go of the thread was when I told him that I did not want to offend him but that my mom had only recently seen the film that launched his career, Footloose, and she complained that it was so stupid, she regretted that she could not get that two hours back.

Sudden Marriage – Sudden Divorce

I have observed from afar the strange tendency of people I am vaguely acquainted with people who meet up with someone and very suddenly get married. Because I know these people only in the sense that I went to the same high school – and did not really know them then either – and now know them only via Facebook posts – I don’t know what leads them to these impetuous marriages. Likewise I don’t know what leads them as impetuously out of these marriages. It would be one thing if I saw it happen once, like something anomalous, but it seems to happen often.

Geography Woes

I don’t really understand the tendency to marry and divorce quickly and frequently, as though it is as casual and easy as brushing one’s teeth. It seems awfully complicated when a couple could just… I don’t know – move in together? But it does seem Americans of all ages are more interested in marrying (and divorcing) than learning anything about the world.

I know and knew this. I recall the year I was graduating from high school and we had to try out to be graduation speakers. My speech had a lot to do with framing our little place within a global framework – that is, look at all the things that had happened in the world since we started school. But how would that context make sense or mean anything if people did not even know where to locate the Soviet Union on a map?

Americans really don’t know, understand or care about geography. I knew this, but Stephen Colbert provided a good reminder on his Monday, April 8 show. Ukraine, according to Americans, is pretty much everywhere. (Oh, Stephen Colbert, you are loved and will be missed on The Colbert Report when you take over the Late Show from David Letterman.)

Ukraine is wherever America says it is!