Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tearful Earful


At the age of 2 you spend a significant amount of time crying.  Not infant need-based crying, but the kind with some budding emotional content. Of course I don’t accurately remember my own early childhood, and my own children were a little stoic; I think they sensed their mother suffered from melancholia and felt safe.  But from the ones I've observed, there seem to be 3 phases.

The first phase--- the trigger-- is frustration.  You simply don’t get what you want, or you want to get what you can’t have until you’re older--- your own proprietary extra-large ice cream cone, a ride on the roller coaster, a few minutes of independence on the sidewalk.  These things are no-negotiation impossible.  So it progresses into crying for its own sake, because let’s face it--- tears don’t really have punctuation.  Adults cry until someone tells us a joke or has to use the bathroom in which we have locked ourselves, or we are so congested that we have to blow our nose which startles us into a self-awareness-based mood shift.  So kids cry through the point at which they forget all about the dropped ice cream or whatever it was--- and pretty soon there just seems no dignified way out.  At a certain point, if they have cool educated parents, they begin to realize that their mother not only has no sympathy but she’s not even annoyed enough to whack them or scold… and like a future ex-boyfriend on one of the first bad dates, she is just turning off.  Then the crying revs into third gear because there is some vague awareness that they are actually causing the very emotional abandonment which is the archetypal root of crying in the first place… and the exact opposite of the desired result.  Phase 3 is unadulterated toddler misery. Wailing.    

From my son's recent relationships I notice the Drama queens can go through a parallel kind of process; first the precipitated crying, then the momentum- hysterics, then the horrific realization that their boyfriend or whoever has shut down and is looking at his phone.  So you can either cut your losses, or just draw it out because it is the end.  Maybe not tonight, but he is already considering the girl who gave him her number on line at Starbucks yesterday.  Whether it will be lunch or dinner, what he will wear.  What she will wear.  Drama queens also know serious hysteria burns calories.  So there is a silver lining, if they really want to go the distance.  But catharsis? Only if you are alone, and seriously guide your crying through a treacherous and fuel-guzzling psychological-emotional journey. 
 
Big Girls Don’t Cry… the song.. .I remember it so well… over and over, I played my sister’s 45.  Was it the lyrics? The heartbreaking harmonies? The cool rainbow on the label?  The title?
I already knew that.  Babies cry.  Little sisters can’t.  You get enormous contempt.  But all of my early record-purchases from Sam Goody were about crying.  ‘Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades, ‘Go Now’, Skeeter Davis’ ‘End of the World’, Marianne Faithfull…”As Tears Go By’… Everyone was crying.  Elvis.  Buddy Holly.  The Beatles, the Stones, the Mamas and the Papas; Smoky Robinson, Otis.

So today I look at these 2 year olds without impatience or annoyance. ‘Knock yourself out I want to say,  'it gets you nowhere.' In about 10 minutes you will begin to fear that your mother will never again respect you or look at you in that way she used to.  You will regret this.  I watch them convulsing, moving from phase 1 into 2nd gear, shuddering, a little drama…

Can you remember the first time you sabotaged a relationship?  When everything was perfect—the way he looked at you, the things you said… and then something dark wafted in--- a glimmer of jealousy, discontent--- whatever… and you let yourself down from the pedestal for just a minute… and you knew you’d blown it.. .and now what?  Walk out? Manipulate him by leaving first as though you’d planned it? Or hang in and bash the walls in--- ? Let him see your very worst, worst, nastiest side...? Cry?

Men don’t like crying.  Certainly that racist drunk asshole on the plane was not impressed.  Okay, he had issues.  But generally men don’t like crying babies or crying women and they certainly don’t tolerate other crying men well.  I can remember hearing 'Tears on my Pillow' blasting on the car-radio of the college student that drove us back and forth to nursery school.  It blew my 3-year old mind.  It had that minor key thing and I felt really, really bad for the singer.  He was a man.  

Onions, my Mom used to tell me on those nights I'd catch her alone at the kitchen table, my father shut in his den with the newspapers and the Scotch.  She was a Big Girl.  If I'd only peeled back that onion,  stood my ground, interrogated...it might not have taken 50 years for me to feel something for her.  She was singularly non-comforting when I was falling apart.  I got my teenage spiny solace from Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.  Tears are just superficial.  There were deeper, darker, bloodier places to explore.  Sadness was something to dissect-- a dare, maybe.  

When I moved to England, I remember some Broadcast Psychologist urging the Brits to grieve after a massive tragic accident.  I found that ironic, until I realized my own husband, who was a bit of a crybaby,  only pretended to sympathize when I righteously and tearfully accused him of an affair with the fashion editor at his newspaper.  His denial was cold and complete.  She had water-proof mascara, and still looked perfect when she came weeping to me after he dumped her weeks later.  

'Save your tears; this is anybody's call' is an 'auto'- lyric from one of my songs.  I am, of course, speaking to myself, and it had little effect when I tried it out on the screaming 2-year old on the subway this morning.  His mother was brilliantly ignoring both of us and several trapped passengers who were  holding their ears.  Some were even laughing.  But most, I realized, including the child's mother, had their earbuds in and were listening to Rihanna or will.i.am with full frontal empathy.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ship Song, 2013


Message 3 on my voicemail today informed me that an email was sent without the anticipated 'attachment'.  Sometimes I imagine if I had a business card, it would say ‘Ironist’.  But on Sundays I try to live my life spontaneously, to unravel each moment without a pre-conceived agenda.  So the ‘lack of attachment’ comment had extra resonance.  The thing is, I am over-attached.  I have too many friends—not the facebook kind-- the kind that call you first to say  I-just-fucked-my ex-husband or my-biopsy-came-back abnormal.   Or some nights it’s I’m really down, or I took too many vicodin and I’m drinking, or I’m losing my hearing.  Seriously.  I can’t hear out of my left ear.  

And I listen.  Sometimes it requires humor, a philosophical discussion of whether we’d prefer blindness or deafness, ad absurdum.  Sometimes it’s exchanging heartwreck, disarming the potential emotional murderer, elaborating the downside of suicide, alternating between Plato’s wisdom and Rihanna’s.  The thing is, I love my friends.  Most of them.  I love the ladies who confess things to me at the gym (some of them) and my upstairs neighbor’s old photographs.  I look, I listen, I deliberate, I care.  I feel sad and I miss people. It hurts when they move away, when they are miserable, when they smash their guitar or their car, when their daughters are using, when their Moms die, when they say things that no one else says. 

I have learned to let them come and go--- not to hold them in a room or expect them to remember my birthday (well…. most of them).  When I feel love is not passionate and exclusive I leave.  I try to time-defuse my own emotional emergencies and besides, no one leaves their phone on at night except my crazy love-obsessed kids.  I can pour my aching bloody heart into an email and know it will be read with a Starbucks on an iphone, not unfolded and handled by candlelight in a dark room, in solitude.  The soundtrack could be that annoying ‘Fun’ or some soppy Josh Groban or whiny Rufus Wainwright or Call me Mr. Flintstone I can make your bed rock  with a Nicki-Minaj-sized butt in front of him on line. Out of my control.  Like all my ‘attachments’.

The fact is, I seemed always to be the person in the room who got selected, the one psychos stopped in the street for directions, for money, for solace or company… for an ear, a hotdog…  It is genetic, this thing.  My Mom had all kinds of annoying ‘friends’ in the supermarket, on the block, at the gas station.  But she seemed to be able to turn and shrug pretty consistently.  Her bills were paid, she had no clue how to qualify for a mortgage or what social security really was.  I, on the other hand, feel a sort of hole whenever one of my friends hangs up or walks away.  It’s a hole that eventually fills in, but it’s a hole.  I miss things.  I miss things I did, nights I laughed and nights I cried.  I miss feeling like I wouldn’t trade anything with anyone, I miss really loud guitars and Marshall stacks without worrying about my poor distressed ears, I miss throwing off my clothes and jumping into a fountain at night, standing up in a convertible at 70 mph, running barefoot, the feeling of zipless sex in an elevator. 

My friend who was a bona-fide rockstar was robbed in December.  Some cheap thugs broke in and took her stuff.  Of course there’s insurance, but they took her maybe worthless old non-vintage 1990’s synthesizer and she misses it.  Her whole song catalogue belonged to this thing, and it hurts like a lost dog.  Why can’t people understand these things?  When I tell my kids to ‘let it go’ I know how much I miss that first kick of the baby inside you, and my own ultra-internalized drama-queen teenage sickness.  So is it the insecurity of the lifestyle I’ve chosen? The fact that I never know for certain whether we’ll make the monthly insurance payment, the maintenance… that things can disappear so easily, they seem not transient and cheap but more valuable?

My son is texting, listening to Nas, ordering a slice, checking his calendar--- connecting, literally… but I am the one standing still with ten thousand strings and wires.  Worrying, missing. 

And on the other hand, I wander unstirred by art galleries, thumb unmoved through new novels, yawn at the fashion-week runway shows, and find the only nudity really upsetting is that of the Emperor.  The Grammies were musical Girl Scout cookies.  Even the shenanigans and spectacles feel silly, overdressed.  Jack White looked stupid and pasty and I wonder if he is missing the first White Stripes gig when his wife or sister or ex-girlfriend or whatever she was looked fat and awkward and nervous. 
Adele is not even fat, Justin Timberlake looked like a dumb Ken-doll version of himself, and maybe it is my shitty TV or my tinnitus, but everyone sounds shrill and thin and pageanty.  There is television-- -the shows, the news, the new generation Law and Orders-- scripted reality, and unscripted unreality.    Everything has a soundtrack; every song has a video, a visual, a red-carpet-worthy costume….isn’t the music alone ever enough?

Maybe I am just old.  I remember my Mom, my guest onstage at some massive 1970’s rockstar concert, asking one of the band members ‘Don’t you boys know any songs?’

Still, I go to the gym and I listen to stories; I tell my own and sometimes I scarcely recognize these people who have told me intimate things they haven’t even told their shrink.  Or other times, I go home and cry for them and write a song they will never hear.  My catalogue--- the endless unalphabetized people who have touched me, and still touch me, and wreck me, and make my life nearly unmanageable like a hoarder.  Rich men amass money… and they spend it; we emotional harvesters absorb moments and spend them carelessly.  I’ve always had this fascination/fear of the sea.  Not like a surfer, but like a stranded Robert Louis Stevenson character.  Since the hurricane, I’ve listened with great interest to the victims that cannot tear themselves from their ruined houses, from future peril, because their attachment to the sea is ironically related to the threat.  After all, we are chronically attached, terminally connected, some of us standing alone on some familiar shore feeling all the ships of our lives recede into some emotional horizon where our past and future endlessly flirt but never meet.  Few of their passengers ever think to turn around to wave, and if they do, we’re much too far to see.