an illogical letter

Nine months ago I went to the Met Breuer alone on a weekday and saw an exhibit about absurdity in art in times of political turmoil. It was a time when I was worrying a lot about politics and not about the state of my personal life. I stopped listening to political podcasts a month later. 

The only thing I remember from this exhibit nine months ago is a small painting or maybe it was a print, it looked like nonsense cursive, the size of a normal piece of paper. It’s title was something along the lines of “It’s impossible to write a logical letter to a general.”

I found this poignant because I was very paranoid about North Korea and was thinking often about names like Mattis and McMaster.

That week as weeks do has taken on a lot of extra significance in the intervening months. I know, logically speaking, that I had not yet met the person who would throw my life off course. And yet, when I remember standing at the Met Breuer in my billowing pink pants and a strappy black top that really shows my chest, I remember it as though I’d already met him. Time is stupid and not real and a trick.

Two or three weeks ago, so still May, my best friend from college was in town en route to a wedding. We also went to the Met Breuer. A month before that I went to the regular Met with another college friend when he was visiting on the five year anniversary of our college graduation which is also 4/20. Before those two Met visits I hadn’t been to a museum since I was in France in the fall.

Outside the Musee Orangerie I was trying to take a seflie and this man started following me and trying to talk to me so I walked faster and faster and I got into the museum and paid my admission and I saw him waiting by the doors. It’s a small museum. There’s a gallery in the basement but the main attraction is two large rooms with Monet paintings lining the walls on the ground level. Half of me was trying to fall into the paintings of water and half of me was calculating if I’d been inside long enough that the man by the door had probably left.

I relayed this tale to another man, how a creep followed me into a museum, playing it off as the classic combination of hi I was in danger and also well look I’m hot and it’s so hard to travel as a woman and look this is really fucked up and don’t you wish you had been there with me and hey aren’t you catching on here’s the scheme the man I confided in was and is absolutely more dangerous than the man who followed me into the museum though he was dangerous also.

When I returned to the Met Breuer with my best friend from college three weeks ago, we went to Flora in the basement first and I ordered and absurd anchovy appetizer and she got a citrus salad and then we split the halibut. I got the halibut nine months ago too. It was a little different. Secret: fancy restaurants keep the same proteins but change the accompaniments.

Then we went upstairs and watched an open rehearsal for a dance exhibit. We marveled at how young the dancers seemed. “They must be just out of college, and already preparing for a performance at the Met.”

The main exhibit was about bodies.

Someday I will write about the past nine months. Wait, I already have. I wrote an essay. I got it workshopped in Hudson four weeks ago. I forgot that I knew how to write an essay. But the women who I’d never met understood what I was saying. They were surprised that I’d written the essay in two days. They wrote annotations that are the same as the annotations I usually write in the margins of essays I read by other women: “I hate him.” They also wrote annotations that I won’t bore you with, about plot devices and interpersonal psychology and carefully placed details. See, like Ali Smith said, How to Be Both.

Some of my friends are fucking thrilled that I wrote that essay which yes I will eventually try to publish. Other people, (ah, yeah, which ones do you think,) said, “I hear you wrote an essay.”

I said exactly the response someone like me would have but which is also true: “I’m an artist, and this is how I process what happened to me. Look, don’t be nervous, it’s more about me than it is about him. Don’t worry. You come off fine. Don’t worry! I’m going to make sure that everyone who could be affected reads it before I consider publishing it.”

God, I love to spend time placating friends of abusive men that they personally will not suffer from being friends with abusive men.

This weekend I guess there’s another panel about freedom of the press. Oh did I mention, that’s the other thing that happened the week of the Met Breuer and the letter to a general. A panel on freedom of the press. I don’t want to say that’s where it began because I know now that things do not begin in discrete moments, but.

I started to wonder if there was a rip in the space time continuum. Did the past nine months not happen. Am I living in a scratchy film loop of bad men and the Met Breuer and panels where progressive men pontificate and then turn around and

And then I remembered a therapist (a male one!) who I had during the summers between college who to be honest is the person who most taught me what mental health means and how when I’d go on my long rants (ha, see my offset of Longreads, Longrants,) about dramatic friendship issues, he’d say, sometimes all you can do is shrug.

I’m simplifying how good he was. But this one thing was simple and true. Instead of searching for the meaning of the panels and the museums and the coincidences—well, it fucking happened, time is a flat circle.

You can't write a logical letter to a general.

You can't have a logical conversation with a sociopath. Good thing I saw that exhibit, I guess.

I always loved books but no one told me how much of my life I’d spend trying to rewrite horrific narratives into something acceptable. I didn’t know that something as simple as ‘enjoying an experience’ would contort in my memory into tar, because I’d realize that what I saw as an equal interaction was just a man manipulating me as an activity. 

Sometimes I remember men who I went on one or two dates with who were maybe decent and I think why did I drop that? Why did I run away? Was it really that bad? And then I’m at a bar and a decently attractive man wearing a shirt patterned with poinsettias is telling me how women just need to ignore men and create their own art and I nod and smile and think yes wow what a genius solution.

And then walking home slowly in wedge heels I recall exactly why I could not physically force myself to text any of the men back.

Despite what happened, this time, or any of the other times, I’ve been so fucking lucky.

If I didn’t preserve the cave I’ve been given by running away from people who threaten the small things I hold—

I’d be a fucking fool.

 

Modern Hate - Is Our Time our Own?

I am tentatively venturing back into the land of online dating after almost a year spent away; as one might re-approach a fascination with cars after a year spent tinkering with a quality but thoroughly unreliable bicycle. I'll preface by saying that despite the ridiculous habits that people have which make it a challenging terrain to navigate, I think that online dating is one of the most important social innovations of the modern era, in terms of giving people access points to finding the whatever type of intimacy they desire.

However, I am certainly glad that I have years left (really an unlimited number of years, if I stick to this not wanting kids thing) to experience it as a fun experiment rather than out of true necessity for finding a long term companion. But I guess it's also that way with any kind of dating – it's so much more fun when you don't have a set expectation in mind, and can relish the joy of the absurdity instead of being angry that every scrub you meet on the street isn't trying to spend 100% of their time obsessed with you.

In fact, percentage of time spent obsessed with another human is actually among the troubles I am running into with dipping my feet back into this sea of humans flailing about. (Gross but accurate image.) I spent so much time alone this past year in San Diego. I don't think of this as a 'good' or 'bad' thing (good and bad being paradigms I am trying to escape in all areas of my life) but rather as a natural occurrence that now other natural occurrences flow from – I got used to spending so much time alone, and now I have a steady barn of horses in that area of my life who need consistent food and exercise, and though it can be hard to give them all the attention they require, it is a necessary and vital part of my life.

I have activities that I already plan to do alone, I am used to thinking about a certain amount of topics per day and if I neglect them or am too distracted, I get really overwhelmed and panicky because I feel behind and like I haven't properly processed things. Add to that the fact that I have an actual laundry list of things I do need to accomplish completely alone by virtue of being in a new city – job training apartment whatever job job literary shit job shit meeting old friends understanding the subway job job – that whereas the average person might (the average person does) look at my life and see a wide swath of free time, ready for them to grab and use at their leisure, I do not see it as such. I see pockets of time that I can devote to strangers and friends alike, and try to dole them out in a way that is fair and healthy.

I'm going to venture a guess that humans have not considered this, given the way they treat my time. Keep in mind that the following have all occurred prior to meeting someone in person, because once someone exhibits these behaviors I react like an animal who senses a harness nearby and scampers in the other direction, making sure they have no way to entrap me.

First, in the online medium itself. Multiple times – honestly multiple times a day – people will message me, wait a few hours, then message me again saying something like 'guess I wasn't cool enough for you' or 'people probably don't like you because you're a bitch' or any variation of getting pouty that I haven't replied as soon as I saw their message.

Yeah, a lot of these messages I probably wouldn't have replied to in the first place, but the funny thing is usually when people do this it's within a time frame where I just haven't SEEN the message. I usually only check the messages once a day, or at least do one bulk session of responding in a day, because if I kept the app active on my phone it would just be this constant obnoxious barrage of messages. So – these guys apparently think I'm just sitting by the app, waiting for them to message me so I can be ever so impressed with their man-ness and become obsessed with them.

Then, you know, there's the people that I do message back, and we talk a bit, and you know, it's hard to say if they're cool or not because I don't know them, but they seem possibly decent so we say 'hey, let's grab a drink sometime, here's my number' and we start texting, and maybe -

Maybe someone I already know from one of my previous lives calls me up to go to an event or dinner or coffee. Maybe I go to hang out with my sister. Or maybe, oh my god, maybe – I have a plan to do something by myself. See the Steve Job movie. Walk the high line. Get up early for something writer-ly. Actually write something writer-ly. I'm trying to develop a schedule for writing and hold myself to it, because if I don't take myself seriously, who will? But anyway, as I am doing things, with other humans or with myself, one of these guys texts me and says do you want to grab a drink tonight? What are you doing now? When can we meet up?

And maybe I don't see it for a while – I don't keep my phone on the table if I'm catching up with an old friend. I go on runs that can run (heh) up to 2 hours, during which I am also not checking my phone. I do check my phone when I'm working on things, but I'm trying to break the habit or at least not get engaged in conversations because it's v distracting and a bad work habit. Maybe I do see it and I think 'I'll reply to this later, when I figure out what's up.'

And I would like to insert here that I am not, by definition, a not-responder. I am a responder. I have a general timeline in my head of when I should get back to someone by, even if I'm busy. If I take a long time I'm very apologetic and explain my current in flux life situation.

In the preferable scenario, I see the message eventually, I reply, words are exchanged, it's understood that we're all in a weird place in life and plans are hard to make, we make a plan or we estimate a time when we will know our schedules better.

OR -

“Hey I became unexpectedly free today what are you up to?” (I am asleep, do not see message)

“Hoping to hear from you soon!” (I wake up to both, am annoyed)

“I guess today's a no go...” (Is it now?!)

“Hey can you let me know what time tomorrow you might be free I'm just trying to figure out my schedule...”

If those were four separate messages from four separate people, great. All normal. Even two of them would be like, fine, whatever. But nope, all four were from the same person within the same five hour period. Dude, come on. If someone doesn't respond to me and I haven't met them, I just throw it out the window. If I've met them once and they don't respond to me, I am chagrined that they don't realize I'm the best person in the world, but I still throw it out the window. If I've known them for several months, I might send them a second text after like, three days.

(And I should throw in the caveat here - I'm not trying to apply any of this to people that you have actual consistent relationships with. This is purely about strangers.) FOUR TEXTS IN FIVE HOURS TO SOMEONE YOU'VE NEVER MET?! What do you think my job is, sit in room with cell phone and do nothing to distract myself from important messages from strangers?

OR -

Guy keeps texting me with times he could meet up, random questions about my life, all the changes in his schedule that flit about moment by moment, but then when I eventually reply a decently lengthy apologetic text that I'm having trouble penciling people in because of again, the job the training the weird life of having moved here less than a month ago, they respond with something frosty and/or salty, pick your food based adjective, and I'm like alright, bye felicia, if you can't handle me being busy before I've met you, you sure as hell wouldn't like it later.

Can we just dwell on the absurdity of that for a moment? How can someone believe before they've even met me that they are so entitled to my time that they can get indignant or angry or have the right to know exactly what I'm doing to not respond or see them? Is it that hard to imagine that I might just be off doing things alone that I think are important, because I have a life of value? I assume it is a mixture of

A. I am a woman, so what better things can I have to do than pay attention to men who deign to speak to me?

B. Cell phones – if we're always plugged in how can we not be communicating, etc

It just confuses me, because it's not like I'm some princess trying to hit away my armies of suitors with a flail made of horse hair. I spent the majority of my teens and early twenties with no male attention to speak of, and the attention that I did have was generally fraught and creepy. There are scores of men who I've paid attention to who have either completely ignored or backed away from me, and although I complained to my friends about it, it's not like I sought retaliation unless they did something you know, evil, which I think is fine. If I were actually doing anything malicious to these internet strangers they'd have every right to be pissed at me – but in the aforementioned cases, I was just being a normal human who doesn't have her shit figured out because she moved to a city less than a month ago and doesn't have a set schedule. You wanna text me this morning that your day suddenly became free? Well my day isn't, and for you to expect that I'm just sitting around waiting for some guy to text me is ridiculous.

It seems that somewhere along the line of being a woman with an iPhone, people forgot that I have the right to my own time. I'm not going to say I lost the right, because that right is still 100% mine and any random dude (or any human's) opinion of that is irrelevant. I can give it out in select increments, but it's not yours to take because you think I have a hot picture on okCupid and you like how I phrase things in my profile. My days are not just swaths of time up for the taking. You're not doing me any favors by deigning me with your presence. If any deigning of presence to be done, it is going to be understood that it's a two way street – I am lucky to get a chunk of your time, and you are lucky to get a chunk of mine. We're all busy humans, but one gender's busyness is not more important than the others.

Lest I sound like a harangue of online dating, I would like to clarify that I am not – both thinking it's a necessary and important medium, and for those who know my recent non-online dating narrative, not exactly a peach grove either. Somewhere on the scale of 'less weird and unpleasant than my roommate stabbing himself but more weird and unpleasant than moving across the country.' And, cannot forget, there are lots of guys speaking to me who are NORMAL and who seem perfectly willing to accept that my time is just as valuable as theirs, and that I might want to spend a lot of it alone (Since I say that. In my profile. You've been warned.)

Note: sometimes I write things on my blog or online that people decide to apply to my entire past and then go on a rant about me, to me, about how I'm a hypocrite or whatever. If you have this in mind, spare yourself the time. I'm a growing girl, half the point of this time in life is maturing and figuring things out and revising earlier held opinions. If me at 22 was the authoritative version of Becca, for how I'd be for the rest of my life, you'd all be in for an obnoxious time.