Notes On Another New Life #5
I Almost Don’t Care What You Think (of Me).
The other day, two strangers gave Richard and me a bunch of perennial plants, and now we are digging holes, and wherever we place a new shrub or clump of ornamental grass the older plants shake themselves out and perk up. The way the garden grows is the way a piece of writing grows.
Last week, before driving to the city, Richard and I cut each other's hair. I have been cutting his hair for 17 years. That is the equivalent of walking from London to Inverness.
It was the first time he’d cut my hair. His hair is straight. My hair is wavy. Waves are more forgiving than I am. He did a pretty good job. At the party we went to, no one commented, one way or the other. If you think people won’t tell you your hair looks terrifying, think again. I respect this.
It's gotten so Richard expects me to fall asleep as we're driving back to Hudson. He was listening to the Grateful Dead, and following me into the depths of a winding, Taconic Parkway sleep, following me like Orpheus followed Eurydice into hell, came "Cuz I used to love her, but it's all over now." Over and over for 15 minutes. You know how the Dead can get stuck in the revolving door of a refrain.
I woke up and said, "Oh, for fuck's sake, if it's over, shut up about it." In fairness to me, I’d packed a gorgeous thermos of espresso for Richard to drink on the drive home. In fairness to him, today he schlepped a million pound rhododendron bush into and out of our car.
We were early for the party, so we sat on Second Avenue, on the Lower East side, making up stories about the fish that swam by. There was so much glorious freedom in the clothes people wore—a leaning toward clown pants and those weird, stringy braids hanging down the cheeks. Everyone was younger than us, except for a few people pushing walkers. At every age, you think about the age you are on the animal of a life. We’ve arrived at the position of the tail, and you may wonder what I think of this.
Right now, I can sense you—you who are younger than me—wanting to push things down the bar in my direction. Things like wisdom. If you do that, I will politely (not politely) push it back to your side of the Grand Canyon divide you see between our stages of life. Wisdom isn’t a real thing. There are words for many things that don’t exist, like human potential and the soul. I’m not sending these things back because they don’t exist. I’m saying there is no essence to being a certain age. And if there is no essence, the age group you’re in, no matter what it is, has no intrinsic qualities. You already know this by looking at where you are and where the other people are you went to college with.
Still, I had this awareness the other day of a thrilling and reckless impatience that I felt had sprouted—I would put money on it—from being alive a long time. I’m impatient when people tell me about how the world works, as if they’ve invented the wheel, the light bulb, and the sudden understanding that men own most things. I’m impatient with the tendency of humans to view the past as a pageant of mistakes. A past they didn’t live through, don’t read about, and don’t understand has been purposefully erased or misrepresented by the male humans who own most things. And, yes, also by the women who love these men. Or need them. Or whatever. I don’t really care.
Did I ever care? I think so, in a sorta kinda way. There are points in life when you can’t repeat the same god damn insight about yourself or a human tendency. You are going to tell the people tapping you on the shoulder and nipping at your ankles to bugger off, and you are going to think your own thoughts without wasting your time addressing subjects that bore you.
I hope this happens to you soon. It’s great. And if you are a female human, especially, it will make you even more unpopular than you were before. I’m speaking about myself, obviously.
I wish I could tell you I don’t care what people think of me. I wish I could tell you I’ve grown out of caring, the way I’ve grown into the fiery impatience I’m telling you about. I have always wanted to be included—at summer camp, in high school, in the women’s movement, at the Village Voice, in my female friendships—anywhere there have been groups. I wanted to be included inside an anxious sweat that doomed it.
I’m going to tell you a little story about how my impatience is circulating in the world these days. It’s about the way I post on social media. It’s about the way I write everywhere, including here, with an attitude of take it or leave it. I’m saying to readers, We’re not going to have a discussion or a debate together here. You are free to argue with me, but you need to do it over there, on your planet, and without me.
When I post something, to me it's a song. I finish singing, and I make no appeal for how I should sing differently. Or write other lyrics. If I were to post a drawing or a painting, I wouldn’t be asking for advice about the palette. In a piece of writing, I'm saying no to yellow markers writing over something or crossing out parts that strike a reader as, I don't want to read this, or, I would have done it this way.
I don't defend what I've written, and I don't explain what prompted it. I tack a piece of writing onto a wall, and readers are invited to pass by. My desire is to produce pleasure and stir emotion. If you enjoy something and want more, I like knowing that. If a piece has made you feel or think something, I like knowing that, too. If you don't enjoy what I post, you can skip my work the next time it scrolls along. I don't need to know you don't like something. Just go somewhere else to find pleasure.
Can I tell you how irritating this is to people? How thwarted they feel I won’t take their advice, even though everyone knows from the age of six months that nothing is more noxious and pointless than unsolicited advice. Oy, the charges—dogmatic, silencing, wanting only praise and agreement. Can I tell you how angry people get I won’t argue against an objection they’ve made in a comment? How badly they want to dumb-shame me with their superior knowledge of something I’ve written.
The other day, Richard and I rewatched The Last Picture Show (1971), and the next morning, I shared my response. I didn’t argue a position or damn the movie as a work of art for others to enjoy. I praised the performances of Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman, who play a high school boy and the wife of his closeted football coach, living in dusty, nowhereville Texas in 1952. The unlikely couple fall in love and create everything surprising and moving in the film. To me, though, the movie generally came off a bit studied and clichéd. There’s no humor or sense of joy as it spockets along, moods that even movies about bleak and brutal subjects can tickle you with—think Hitchcock’s films, or Rosemary’s Baby, or Casablanca.
Boom, in five seconds, the people who didn't like what I wrote started feeding me information, the way you would set out kibble for a malnourished dog you saw on the street. Read this book. Listen to this podcast. Watch all of Bogdanovich’s movies before you open your mouth again. The assumption being it's only your blighted ignorance that has walled you off from the correct understanding of the movie. Their understanding.
Instructing other people with the assumption they don't know what you know (or how could you have arrived at your response?) is always a moral exercise. I bring this up because the way this works in my life and probably yours is a stain that's spreading across the linen shirt of our culture.
A male friend points out that men set boundaries all the time around their work, and no one pushes back at them. Mostly the anger I arouse comes from men. Women, in my experience, are pretty good mansplainers, too, though. The men call you stupid. The women call you hard. Maybe this thing where I piss people off because I won’t give them what they want, maybe this has something to do with being old and female. An old woman is supposed to be compliant? Interested in the opinions of others? In need of information and correction—being all old and female as she is?
You know what I say to this? “Ha.” I’d rather not be found so irritating, but after all this time, I’ve gotten good at it.
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