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Entries in lucy morris (19)

Friday
Apr252014

In Which Our Throat Goes Dry From The Effort Of Amusement

Some Recent Notes

by LUCY MORRIS

In Iowa this was the winter of Beyonce and hashtags, which is to say it was no different from winter anywhere else. “We’ll never hear this album and not think of this time,” someone said, and it seemed true, certain tracks inextricable from solitary hood-up walks home as early dusk bore down, others forever linked to an afternoon when we convened at Olivia’s for a specific but forgotten reason and accidentally stayed all night. It seemed too cold to walk home, on that and many other days, although our houses were all less than a block away and it wasn’t like the temperature would stop dropping as midnight turned to one to two. This was also the winter I began experiencing intermittent but uncontrollable hysterical laughter, and flopped on the couch with my friends, my abs ached and my throat went dry from the effort of my amusement.  

My shopping lists from the coldest months show these consistent repetitions: 2 lbs. cabbage, 8 cloves garlic, tomato puree, 2 oz. dried porcinis, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garbonzo beans (15 oz. x 2), 6 large red onions, butter, bananas, a pomelo? (check price), spinach (check expir. date). I didn’t buy limes until the first day of April; $4.69/lb. but I needed to believe in summer after a winter when it seemed to not climb above zero for days on end, not above freezing for weeks. Still, I managed okay: I sealed off my windows, until my view of the outside world was filtered through layers of  rippling plastic, and my spirits were good enough to formulate a joke about a sext for a polar winter such as this one: “I’m not wearing any long underwear.”

Selected notes from recent months:

• “Trusting yourself is another form of work.”

• “A book is its only explanation.”

• “Teachers should only ask questions they don’t know the answers to.”

• “A restless essay.”

• “An essay that’s mired in grad school.”

• “Insists on its own obscurity.”

• “Defying meaning is a one-trick pony.”

• “Secrecy and privacy are chosen forms of isolation.”

There’s a bit — of my own invention — about how Iowa has made me the woman I was always meant to be. When I do it over the phone to friends who knew me before, I describe my clogs, my fleece, and the lengthy mid-morning constitutional I take around my neighborhood daily. I say the music I listen to is mostly the kind my parents did, that I always have spare light-bulbs, laundry quarters, and a variety of shelf-stable grains on hand now, that I make a point of “listening to my body” — although in practice this has mostly meant making other people listen to me talking about it, a daily enumeration of muscles and joints that feel better or worse, an assessment of my appetite and what specific cravings might indicate, a declaration that I require more sleep, a lap swim, or additional protein. But for all my self-mockery, the eye-rolling dismissal of the-self-as-project, living alone for the first time — which is to say, standing at the center of my own life for once — has basically been a religious experience in the extent that it’s transformed me. Which has much less to do with what I keep in my cupboards or put in my body than I tend to make it sound.

Another note was something a professor said, and the context is not recorded, but I underlined it for emphasis: “One doesn’t want to cannibalize one’s own past too much.” I had done that for a long time, been a slave to the how-it-happened of life, and of my life, but now I thought I was mostly done with that. People sometimes used to ask me if it wasn’t hard to record my own recent past so closely, which I see now was not a question but actually a warning. And maybe it was because I could never satisfactorily answer it as the former that I also could not heed it as the latter.

A document on my desktop, entitled “Some Recent Theories”:

• A theory on people whose intelligence is predicated on proper nouns and not original thought

• A theory that women who are more critical of men as a group have more successful relationships with men individually

• A theory that we all have one friend who embodies the part of ourselves we will never permit ourselves to be—someone louder or stranger or more aggressive, someone bolder or more measured or maybe just diplomatic.

Not so much a theory as a hobby I’ve invented for myself: speculative gossip. To imagine aloud the life of someone you know only a little, the home routines you’re not privy to, their private interactions. You don’t want to be mean about it, just imaginative. You want the person you’re talking with to build the image with you, aid and abet it.

The two kinds of trivia I am bound to remember are the ages people were when they made works of art, and achievements people have had while incarcerated.

• Bruce Springsteen wrote “Thunder Road” when he was twenty-four

• Stevie Nicks wrote “Landslide” when she was twenty-seven

• James Baldwin wrote “Notes of a Native Son” when he was thirty-one

• Shyne signed a $3.1 million record deal from prison

• Vybz Kartel recorded a sixty-one song album on his smart phone while in jail

• The governor of a minor region where I once lived in Russia was convicted of corruption and then re-elected while incarcerated. 

On the subject of cannibalizing one’s own past, this is a note I made at twenty-two after a conversation with a friend: “It’s like reentering a party after a long sober conversation outside. How do you continue on after that?” We were referring to the possibility of people we’d loved going on to love other people, which seemed an incomprehensible concept at that time. Drinking “margaritas the size of our faces,” which I noted was what we were doing at the time of this conversation, on what I remember was a weeknight at that, is now the more incomprehensible concept of the two.

Other notes from the couple years following that:

• “That patience and tact you have is a real gift.”

• “During the interactive classes, much of the burden to keep discussion going was placed on the students.”

• “You should read some Tolstoy, both for the marriage stuff and party planning tips (bears).”

• “A quiet campaign of avoidance.”

• “Nostalgie de la boue! Just learned this term.”

• “The explanation of secrecy as an illusory form of control makes so much sense.”

• “You didn’t tell me there was an aquarium.”

• “It seemed like each encounter fueled the next, it seemed like everything was working...”

But then there are the notes of a realer life, running mileages recorded, subway directions copied down, hours worked, appointments noted, addresses to write on envelopes when I got to the post office. 

People sometimes link youth and its attendant mistakes to a sense of invincibility, but if there was a guiding principle of my own early twenties, it was much more a sense of inevitability. Of course I would end up staying for another drink, or sleep with the person who presented themselves to me, or spend some idiotic sum of money on nothing. Prolonged, public decision-making may have been something of a recreation among my friends — that weighing of options among people who still thought options would always be limitless—but I mostly remember a feeling of being carried along by the events around me, the decision made before I was even aware that there was one to make. I used to retrospectively classify my actions as either good ideas or bad ones, the wild oversimplification of someone with an aversion to nuance — or of someone too lazy to do the real work of figuring out what she wanted, or maybe just busy with other things.

• An essay I can appreciate, in its entirety:

“I thought his carelessness was charming.” – Lia Purpura, “A Novel in Two Parts.” 

The lens through which I tended to view my life made it so that I never noticed when I found myself in unusual situations; I wasn’t really out of my mind so much as I was out of my body, looking down on myself with a peculiar tunnel vision. I worked briefly as a transcriptionist for a cult, and I was foreman of a jury, and for a phase I dated only people I had met years before, never anyone totally new, and none of this seemed odd or impressive, although it did sometimes seem foolish. Although I am in too many ways unchanged, I am more self-conscious, more tentative, which means I go home after a few drinks, think things through more carefully, and generally find myself residing in the realm of the pleasantly ordinary—dinners cooked with friends, regular routines, plenty of sleep.

“Find” is a construction I always favored; it frees you from complicity in your own life.

Some notes I took at a recent Q&A with Rachel Kushner:

• “The day is a continuous opportunity of chances not to fail.”

• “Too much comfort for me is distracting.”

• “Writing doesn’t have to be hermetically sealed off from the world/ravages of history.”

• “An arena of potential compromises.”

• “I don’t want a tube into my imagination of the world.”

“You’re scared,” one of my friends said tenderly, with the incisiveness of someone who knows you well, sees you change at the gym, texts you each morning to tell you the weather before you can even check it yourself. And she was right, of course, but whenever someone says this to me, which isn’t altogether infrequently, I want to reply, why are you not scared?

Notes from a recent lecture by Laurie Anderson, entitled “Some of My New Projects”:

“Choking on their own goodness.”

“It’s hard to make a lobby sound bigger.”

“Looks at audience and sees dogs — Yo Yo Ma, too!”

“An invocation to whales.”

“What do animals sing?”

“When you love something you can be too careful.”

“Mother’s maiden name becomes so obscure it’s a secret question.”

“Engineering our own lives.”

“Every time you tell it you forget it more.”

Emily and I have taken to telling each other bedtime stories over the phone. I tell her, like it’s a fairytale, about how the first time we got together we ended up sitting in a park so that she could make a conference call for work. And I was so blown away by her poise, I tell her now from bed, phone pressed between cheek and pillow, the way that a single person could be both outrageously, energetically interesting and exceedingly professional, and I knew we would be friends forever. Although this one happens to be true, bedtime stories don’t actually have to be — the point is you believe them because if you didn’t you could never fall asleep.

Some amendments to the above:

• Invincibility and inevitability both stem, probably, from a mix of anxiety and arrogance.

• Regret gets too close to complicity for most Americans to handle, but I do at least wish that I had taken more time with the beginnings of things, instead of taking too much time with the ends. Although in writing, of course, just the opposite mistake is what’s common.

• When I say I stop after a few drinks now, that’s not quite unilaterally true. I stayed out until four on Saturday and was ruined until Tuesday; I felt injured by a friend who had done nothing at all, skipped an event I would have enjoyed because going out and smiling at everyone seemed like a burden, and on my walk home one afternoon I unexpectedly began to cry.

I never liked people — writers — who always had pen and paper handy, as if they could never turn off their absurd instinct to record, as if the commodification of experience was a job they could never bring themselves to clock out of. Now I take notes all the time, but I couldn’t say why exactly, except that maybe after you become conscious of how you see the world — not from outside yourself, telescopically, but from painfully within — the intent will always be to analyze it. My favorite notes are from physical therapy, not just the number of reps of each exercise I’m supposed to do, but my PT’s advice, which I like to record verbatim. “If you think you’re going to get hurt, you will,” he says, and he’s talking about my patellofemoral injury, but it could be anything. “You don’t deserve to feel pain,” he says, and he is talking about the ankle I kept trying to jog on for six months after I sprained it, but also, I have chosen to believe, not just about that.

A list of the things I was grateful for when I came home at four in the morning the other day:

• That it was easy to get a cab, because bars had long closed

• That because it had rained earlier in the evening, and the grass had that particular wet scent to it, the comforting mustiness of my building’s interior was especially strong

• Classical music was blasting in the lobby, as it always is

• The hallway was poorly lit in its predictable way

• My bed was comfortable

• I could lie down in the middle of it and spread out my limbs without impediment.

The weather forecast today for zip code 52240, where I live, was a high of sixty-one with — I’m quoting directly here — “abundant sunshine.”

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in Iowa. She last wrote in these pages about . She tumbls here.

Experience the Best of Lucy Morris on This Recording

The inverse of pleasure

Living for love alone

Ransacking her mind for what is not there

The weight of what happened

Losing the excitement over its possibility

All that's left is the text

An extended vacation from New York

While he was sleeping she was turning the dials

Serious thrills of library cards

Dances With Something: Part One/Part Two

"According to Plan" - Augustana (mp3)

"Need A Little Sunshine" - Augustana (mp3)

 

Wednesday
Jan152014

In Which This Fickle Heart Guides Us

The Breakup

by LUCY MORRIS

1

I am home in the Midwestern city where I was born, and I am not entirely certain how I got here. I know that I have taken a lot of trips in the last year, to two continents and three countries, over and across the United States a handful of times by air and once by car. I know that my pockets are filled with bar coded baggage tags, and that I never have the clothes I need for the right seasons. I am rarely dressed for the occasion at the best of times, but lately I have been looking stranger than usual, hoping a smile and a pair of earrings can compensate for living out of a suitcase. 

I am not exactly sure why I am here, but like a lot of things I have done this year, I suspect it has something to do with a boy. Twelve months ago, the idea of uprooting myself for that reason seemed unfeminist and absurd to me. Back then I was working long hours and eating Goya beans every night for dinner with produce retrieved from dumpsters by a fregan acquaintance who was spending some months on my couch. Cutting the mold off a block of cheese, he would ask incredulously, "How can you eat something straight out of the can?" The Squatter, as I affectionately called him, also advocated following your heart. I had never before considered my heart to be a particularly reliable compass, and following it is not the marketable experiment that a year spent following Oprah or the Bible is, but nothing else was working for me so I decided to give it a try. 

I had lost my bearings and two consecutive Metrocards during a period when a lot of things in my life were turning over. I'd moved from a two-story house I shared with my boyfriend to a basement apartment with three roommates and a number of mice. I thought of the former house as the place where I had learned to cook soups and invest in quality tights. It was easier to eulogize it that way, rather than as the first place where I made someone important to me cry, and then learned to look away, in a way that seemed like self-preservation but was in lieu of having to change, a callous made thick from gardening instead of just buying gloves or learning to hold the spade right. 

Once settled in my new apartment, I began the process of something many people I know have done in reverse: New York was breaking for me and so I decided that I was in love with someone far away. The super of our building was ejected from his nearby home over marital issues, so he began converting the laundry room off our kitchen into an apartment for himself. Bugs crawled through the new incisions he made in the walls. It seemed like the city sanitation department never recovered from holiday weekends, the trash mounting in lolling piles around lampposts. I had developed a difficult relationship with the man at the laundromat, and when I walked to the bodega at night, a guy on the corner had started saying things like, "I would do anything to touch your legs." I loved my neighborhood anyway, the sudden jolt from the smell of dried fish in cardboard boxes at Nostrand Avenue produce stores, or Saturdays sprawled in Prospect Park's islands of shade. But sometime last summer I thought I might be able, for a while at least, to love this boy more than I loved the city. For a while I did.

2

His name was Jonah and it had begun as friendship five or six years prior, but the events that find me here now started late last winter, when I was visiting family in Milwaukee for a week. In a dark bar, illuminated by the torch I'd carried for Jonah for years, I made up my mind to try something – someone – new, even though I had a boyfriend back in New York. Our big house in Bay Ridge, with its old-lady-and-new-smoke smell that still clings to my sweaters, was not enough to contain whatever quarter-life crisis I was having. A week before, I had a cinematic panic attack in a dressing room over a jammed zipper on an expensive dress, which seemed, as these things do, prophetic only later. From the B train home from work the next day, I called and told Jonah what had happened. "I'd do anything to see you in a dress," he said, which I knew was both the wrong response and exactly the one I wanted to hear. I was both old enough to see that he knew this and too young to mind his transparency. 

Back in the Midwest, he drove me around his hometown, where the snow banks were pockmarked with grime and the storefronts were empty. The palette of winter in Wisconsin was lunar in a way I had forgotten, and the realities of the 2010 economy were visible in a way they weren't in my daily New York life. We talked unemployment rates, and then some hours later, Jonah reminded me in a decidedly different, slurring tone, "You have responsibilities," by which he meant a boyfriend, a good deal on a place in Brooklyn (and how New York a perspective! I thought through the gin – the real estate consideration). To silence this line of reasoning, I kissed him on the forehead and then the cheek and eventually the mouth. We went back to his freezing attic bedroom. I hadn't slept next to a different boy in years and because of that I was mostly struck by the ease with which we melded into each other, curled like cavatappi right down to our toes. At first I thought this was indicative of some greater compatibility, and then later I knew it wasn't, that once you spend enough time sleeping next to another person, it becomes natural to anyone who comes after, that your body – or is this just women's bodies? – is memory foam adaptable to whoever touches it.

 

3

Back in New York, it seemed to suddenly, aggressively become spring. My ventilation-less office in Brighton Beach acquired the inexplicable vomitous smell of an aquarium, and so I spent lunch breaks on the boardwalk listening to "Hounds of Love" in regular, repetitive doses, as though it was some kind of medicine. I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out. The walls of my new bedroom were Mexican restaurant-style orange sponge paint and the slats under my low bed never stayed in place, so my mattress sank to the floor under my weight. Rent was the only physical check I wrote each month so my checkbook was always piled under detritus on my desk: behind some bottles of beer, underneath mass mailings from politicians, in a tangle of computer and printer cords. "It is unclear why we are here and what we are doing," is how I described the life of my post-college peer group in a note I wrote to Jonah from the boardwalk one day. I asked him whether he thought it was normal to forget the spelling of your landlord's name every month, and if it was weird to eat breakfast on the train or drink coffee in lieu of lunch. I suppose I was hoping his distance, his Midwestern common sense, or the four years of life he had on me might afford him the authority to comfort me. But deep down I must have known those were not resources he had in him, because I never sent that letter.

I believed I was having a lot of fun – and in the absence of any other unambiguous passion, the blanket pursuit of fun seemed logical – by making meals for one, chatting with my roommates, and drinking more than was advisable and yet not enough to be of real concern. But I was growing impatient, and while I knew perfectly well that this was an internal shift, daily city life seemed to validate it. I felt that impatience in the insufferably slow lurches of the Q train I rode each day past station construction in Sheepshead Bay. It was in the slow lines at Key Foods, where customers rifled for coupons and food stamps while clerks tapped their nails on registers. It appeared among the crowds that gathered on the steps of Union Square as days stretched toward their summer limits, everyone lethargic but urgent, ready to meet their friends and start their nights. When I thought about it later, it was the tactile elements of these months that seemed especially if inexplicably poignant: the thick envelopes my pay stubs came in (LUSYA M, my Russian boss wrote in polite cursive), the slick of my Metrocard when I reached for it in my purse every morning at the Park Place stop, or the scrape of the brownstone under my legs when I sat on the stoop at night with a glass of cheap gin and sour juice, talking to faraway Jonah on my phone, the screen of which swirled with sweat when I was finished. 

4

Halfway through June, after months of long calls and coyness, I stood up straight and wrote Jonah a love letter, offering to come spend the rest of the summer with him. "Some Letters Are Failures, But Few Are Lies," is what I called it, a line from Amy Hempel's stories, which I'd been reading on late night subway rides. Although it did not seem strange at the time, I now have to wonder what kind of person titles a love letter, and what's more, why I was compelled to include in it these details of life in my neighborhood: "Gyptian is playing on car stereos on Franklin Avenue by my burger place and Bushwick boys with jeans pegged just above the ankle ride their fixed gears up Bedford. I told K. he was an asshole but I liked him anyway, and the Squatter, beard freshly washed, asked how my writing is going." I wrote: "These nights in the gardens of Brooklyn when around 4 AM I reach that moment of sobriety and all I can think of is Milwaukee, or nights in the bed of my friend where he says we probably shouldn't do this again because I am clearly in love with someone else – these are making me (crazy) restless, sending me pacing the aisles of the E train or up and down Eastern Parkway trying to Be Present with the farmers market boys I'm with or just by myself." Who were those farmers market boys? Where was I coming from on the E train? Why was I so concerned with being present, and what did that even mean? These are the questions I am compelled to ask when I read what I wrote then. And, finally: why did a love letter to a boy really read like a love letter – an ambivalent one, maybe a failure of one, but hardly a lie – to New York? 

Jonah called me a few days later to reciprocate my sentiments. I was flustered by the sudden fact of getting what I wanted. I wished to put him on hold and confer with the Squatter, whose Spanish guitar melodies were wafting down the hallway. "Let me call you back," I said, and when I did I demurred, telling him I had to give my boss a month's notice, although that wasn't true. "I just need some time to wrap things up," I said, although what was left? All my good friends seemed to have wisely evaporated to less humid climates for the summer. I booked a ticket to Wisconsin, and then I moved it up a useless four days. During the intervening lonely weekends, I took buses to visit friends across the Eastern Seaboard. I went to the MoMA, hoping the steep price of admission would at least force me to focus on my immediate surroundings, to provide the present-mindedness I thought I lacked. Half the time I was radiant and half the time I suspected I was making a terrible mistake, but my friends disagreed. "Nothing matters before we're 30," my writerly roommate reminded me by way of reassurance. "Nothing matters ever," the Squatter added from his perch on the couch. And what more authority did I have than any of them? How could I argue?

5

Soon I was in the Midwest again, camped in the attic of the house where I'd grown up. I never fully unpacked, but I spent a lot of my time out with Jonah, and plus I wasn't staying more than two months: why commit to placing dresses on hangers or shoes in neat pairs? In fact, I was afraid. I made the mistake of thinking it was still summer, although it was August now, and people around me were already registering for fall semester classes and anticipating autumn leaves. Undeterred, I bought a swimsuit and drank iced coffee at outdoor cafes where I typed away for my Brooklyn Russians, who'd asked me to work remotely. At night, Jonah and I walked all over town, drinking malt liquor and stumbling home on empty streets, past bar after bar and successions of blinking stoplights. Sometimes we built fires and slept in hammocks, which felt very rustic, although one night during a tedious bar argument I texted a boy I had barely and briefly been intimate with in Brooklyn to say, "I miss New York," and I meant that. I did not mean, "I miss you," but like most of that summer, I was tipsy and I was tired, and didn't know who to tell. 

I started to worry that my heart's directives had led me wildly astray. I wished the Squatter had a phone so I could call and ask him to remind me that nothing mattered. I was as desperate to believe there were no consequences as I was determined to believe I still had summer ahead of me. I knew things with Jonah were breaking, that I didn't want to be drunk all the time, and that it was getting too cold at night to sleep outside. One night I made cocktails out of my mom's last melons and I meant to leave a note of apology, but first we were out on the porch arguing and then we were in my bed pretending we could make things right again. But it wasn't like the cold night in his attic room. It was sticky now, we coiled in opposite directions, and I slept with my phone pressed to my cheek, a half-composed text to my best friend on the screen.

I went west for three weeks to see her, and there I cried in cars and at Catherine's kitchen table, because what was I doing, anyway? I sat on her lawn and had a long phone conversation with an old friend who had last called a few months earlier when I was at a party in Brooklyn. At some point I stopped listening to him and just mentally returned to that night in late May, when it had been disconcertingly, amazingly windy and on the walk over from my apartment, Catherine and I had stopped outside the Brooklyn Library to allow the wind to push us around, surrendering to the moment at hand, a custom I had come to think of as uniquely New York, although I had been enough places to know it was not. In the garden in Park Slope, people attacked a piñata filled with condoms and miniature bottles of liquor, and everyone there seemed set on a kind of self-destruction that alienated me in its deliberation, the agreed-upon premise that we might work good-for-the-world jobs during the week, but we'd still drink too much and go home with the wrong people and have to beg cab drivers to take us back to our out-of-the-way apartments in early morning hours. Months and miles removed, I now found I missed those strangers the way you miss exes in spite of their flaws. They did do good jobs, they made mistakes but endeavored to fix them, they even hired a mariachi band to make a spring night more festive for their friends. Where was that ingenuity, that ambition back in the Midwest? It was time to go, but I wasn't sure where.

 

6

Catherine moved to China, so I bought a one way-ticket there, and then I started seeing someone new in Milwaukee, someone even more ill-advised than the last, for reasons of age, acquaintance and temperament, and most of all my reasons for engaging: what were they, exactly? I couldn't remember – the heart I'd followed for thousands of miles was like a crazy cult leader full of bad ideas I couldn't escape – but I kept finding myself at his house, and I wasn't unhappy. He was from New York and we mostly talked about that, our vocabulary a glossary of street names. Like the last relationship, it had an expiration date – my departure for Beijing – but like the past-sell date yogurt from the dumpsters of Gristedes that had formed my breakfast diet all spring, sometimes that doesn't have real significance.

Fall came while I was in China, evident in boot displays in store windows and the slow fade of the sky around 5 PM every day. I thought frequently of falls past, which is to say I thought of New York, where I had spent the last five of them, seasons rich with foliage and laughter. Happy Chinese girls perched on the racks of their boyfriends' bikes couldn't distract me from the chasm of nostalgia and anxiety that always opens at that time of year – or is that just in us overly sensitive, us seasonally affected types? My excitement for my eventual return to New York made me lightheaded, but it was counteracted by the dread that swelled in the pit of my stomach when I thought of actually going back. Waiting there in the improbably clean metro stations, so untarnished you almost expected new-car smell, I thought of the early evenings I had spent staring down the train tracks in Brighton Beach, willing the B to arrive and whisk me from work back to non-Russian speaking Brooklyn. Listening to boilerplate subway recordings on the train in Beijing, I thought of the pleasant impatience I felt those nights, ready to get home and sink into my boyfriend, but also of the panic I felt transferring to the R to go home to him once things with us were breaking. I thought, as surely everybody has at some point, that I could get on the train and just keep going, right until the end of the line, and start over there. But our house was just three stops from the terminal one. Nowhere seemed like it could be far enough.

7

And with this fickle heart guiding me, maybe nowhere could be, which is why I'm calling off the experiment and heading back to New York. Recently I have been back in Milwaukee, spending time with someone and waiting for a place to open up for me out east. My old place in Crown Heights is now occupied by strangers. This year's exes have new girlfriends. Most days, I am less certain of my own growth, but as I'm packing, I keep finding old Metrocards – maybe the ones I thought I lost a year ago – at the bottoms of my bags, tucked inside yellow papered notes to Jonah. These objects are like relatives I haven't seen in years, familiar but foreign: I recognize my handwriting but not the sentiments I express in it, which is comforting and alienating all at once. Someone told me recently that your heart, that misguided compass of an organ, gets less resilient as you get older, not more. If most of us believed this, I am not sure that living or loving would be bearable rituals, but by some miracle of human nature they are. At least for me. At least for now.

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about living for love alone. She tumbls here.

Photographs by Vivian Maier.

"Night School" - Rosanne Cash (mp3)

"When the Master Calls the Roll" - Rosanne Cash (mp3)

The new album from Rosanne Cash is entitled The River & the Thread, and it was released on January 14th.

Experience the Best of Lucy Morris on This Recording

The inverse of pleasure

Living for love alone

Ransacking her mind for what is not there

The weight of what happened

Losing the excitement over its possibility

All that's left is the text

An extended vacation from New York

While he was sleeping she was turning the dials

Serious thrills of library cards

Dances With Something: Part One/Part Two

Friday
May172013

In Which We Ignore Most Of The Sorrows

Living For Love Alone

by LUCY MORRIS

At that time he had been satisfying a sensual curiosity in discovering the pleasures of those who live for love alone. He had supposed that he could stop there, that he would not be obliged to learn their sorrows also.

Swann’s Way

I have forgotten many things already, but I do remember this: to be in love in New York felt like an homage to the city itself, a kind of tribute paid to your surroundings. Shoulder rested on someone else’s on the end seats of the R train, hands entwined on the Coney Island boardwalk — these gestures were a kind of offering, the love for where you lived manifested in your love for the person beside you.

I was often in love in New York. The first time it happened it was springtime and the trees were blooming a bubblegum pink and I had a new polka dot dress to wear. I was headed to Russia the following fall, which meant nothing really mattered, nothing beyond the mornings my boyfriend awoke me with croissants and whispers, or the afternoons he read aloud to me in the small park adjacent to Union Square, not the main event but the little refuge beside it. 

Most of what I remember of this period is that I was young: so young that the coffee I drank was more cream than espresso, so young that when the strawberries I bought turned out to be rotten I was too shy to return them myself. I was so young that boyfriends were really boys and I sat with friends debating the terminology of sex like it mattered and staying up all night was an achievement, not a drag. All of these pieces, the late nights and arguments and bodega coffee and moldy berries, were then tinged by the fact of being in love, heightened by it to a terrifying degree: a dawn was not just a dawn, a berry not just a berry.

There were other things, too, in the years that followed that were not limited to their appearances, objects and occurrences with whole lives beyond what they seemed.

A certain lace dress I owned was not just a lace dress — it was a symbol of something I thought could be conveyed by what I wore, because I was too shy to convey it in speech, a trait that I believe to be not uncommon among the young.

“You could crash at my place tonight,” I offered up to a guy with the same glasses as me one night over fries on First Avenue, and it was just one line, but it was also an entire story.

photo by Blake Fitch

There were keyrings and subway lines and paperback volumes from the Strand dollar bins, a gold necklace and Metrocards and Film Forum ticket stubs, and none of it was what it seemed. How could it be? I was then someone who could offer up with no shame, no embarrassment, no doubt: “I’m in love,” exclamation point implicit in its declaration. I can probably pinpoint the moment when I stopped being someone who could say that with enthusiasm, who came to feel the sentiment belonged to a younger, past self, but what would be the point?

One important March, the boss in the all Russian office where I worked gave me a red rose for International Women’s Day. I thanked him, “Spasibo bolshoye,” and carried it in my hands most of the way home. I thought about taking it all the way but ended up throwing it away into a bin at Atlantic Avenue, because the relationship with the bubblegum tree boyfriend I was going home to was disintegrating at a speed that was somehow both unbelievably fast and startlingly slow, and it seemed impolitic to show up with a rose from someone else, even a boss. I want to say that when I threw that rose out I knew it was over, unfixable, but that knowledge is of the kind that can only be applied in hindsight.

When you are twenty-two and shy and not particularly empowered there are not very many transgressive things you can do, but saying goodbye to someone who loves you is one of them. The first time I did that may have marked, in a meek kind of way, the first real adult thing I did — certainly it was more adult than the job, the moving in together, any of that illusory adultness that sounded good when you informed people of it but didn’t require much courage because it was not altogether unexpected.

It is hard to trace lines from theres to heres, hard not to get caught up in detours along the way––the minor romances, geographical diversions — but it is almost certainly true that if I had not thrown out that rose, thrown in the towel, I would not be where I am now. Wherever exactly that may be.

Lying in bed, swollen with Sunday night sadness, I think of when I instructed an old boyfriend to meet me at Tile Bar very late on a Sunday at the end of summer when all other possibilities and excuses had been exhausted. I wore a teal dress of the kind that could pass as casual but which I had in fact purchased expressly for the occasion, gone on that heatwave day to Forever 21 and emerged with the yellow bag, certain convoluted intentions.

I think of intentions a lot lately, and all the years I thought I had none when I very much had ones I was merely afraid to voice, and I think in equal part of the years I thought I had many that were really empty intentions, vague hopes of the kind of person I wanted to be with no course of action behind them.

That night at the bar we fed the jukebox all our ones and the old boyfriend gave away two cigarettes and late, near close, we went around the corner to the ATM. In my memory we were holding hands, swinging the V of our attached arms back and forth, taking up all of empty Second Avenue. Back at my apartment I offered him the only beer in my fridge, a leftover party Sam Adams, but the beer wasn’t the point; that was never the point.

But goal posts move, meanings change. It was not actually the end of summer, it was early in July, the fifth or sixth maybe, but it was near the end of what would be my summer, in the time I had left in New York. The beer was not the point at the time, but later it was very much the point. I recall then wanting that old boyfriend to miss me when I wasn’t around, but later I would just come to settle for him talking to me.

For a while after that I was afflicted with bad dreams, by the memory of a pale stretch of neck I used to know, by a stinging silence that seemed to spread in the darkness. I was trying to put an end to my preservationist instincts, the desire to record, but the details I refused to write down merely migrated to my dreams: the exact nature of someone’s stubble, the precise route of a walk once taken, the setting and wording of a conversation once had.

photo by Blake Fitch

I note the time I’ve been apart from that pale stretch of neck, all the habits I’ve picked up and broken since then, the people I’ve met and lost, the books I’ve creased open with pleasure and shut with annoyance. I generally have very little understanding of what day it is. Instead, the unit of time by which I measure everything is the duration of people’s absences. Nothing more and nothing less.

 

When my brother announced his intention to get married I stopped speaking to him for four months, despite the fact that I adore his fiancé and love him in the way that you love siblings, painfully, more than anyone else on earth. But intertwined with the love I feel for my brother, for everyone, is the knowledge that they may not always be there, and that knowledge is so intolerable that I have come to loathe the love attached to it. The berries were as much about loss as about love, the arguments too, the ticket stubs, the Sam Adams, all the rest.

For a while when I was twenty-two and twenty-three — far too young for the fear I felt — I would tell my mother I was scared of dying alone and she would say, “We all die alone.” I did not find this comforting at the time but now I very much do.

Everything I describe comes to me now only in detail, not sentiment. Things I once lived now seem dangerously remote from my reality. I check sometimes to see if that first boyfriend is married. I am not married and I no longer live in New York and the springtime conviction in love has been superseded by rolled-eye allusions to limerence, which is coincidentally a kind of cynicism it turns out men seem to favor, although not necessarily the right kind of men.

I used to believe that the markers of adulthood were checks to the IRS and taking the garbage out, that all the other manifestations of maturity that my friends bemoaned their lack of were basically bullshit. I now think there are no markers at all, just slow evolutions, quiet forfeitures of what you once felt sure.

This spring I lie awake a lot and think about love, in the context of some remarks I’m to give at a wedding, and on certain nights when I can’t sleep love comes to seem an inseparable sentiment from doom and on others it seems so soaring in its expanse that there is nothing to say about it all, and all the Tolstoy and Proust and Pushkin I’ve read on the subject mere attempts as futile as this one.

All I can think to mention at the wedding are the meals eaten at my friends’ table, the nights they took me in and cooked me greens, showed me in their small gestures to each other how to untangle love from loss. One evening I watched them feed their sick dog medicine together and I sat humble before them on the couch, awed by their coordinated movements. Later, I gathered my things and went home, to a bed that is different from the one I sleep in now, to thoughts so separate from the ones I harbor today that I can hardly believe they are of the same mind. When I say that goal posts move and meanings change, probably what I mean is that we all do too, inevitably, without any say in the matter at all. This change is its own kind of loss. It is also its own kind of marvel.

As it happens, I am headed once again to Russia, for the first time in five years. But I have learned by now that you cannot discount meaning just by announcing that you plan to do so. In the end, all of it adds up anyhow.

Lucy Morris is the contributing editor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in Iowa City. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the inverse of pleasure.

Photos by Blake Fitch.

photo by Blake Fitch