Saturday, December 20, 2008


There's something about home that's entirely debilitating. Not my home, exactly, not the specific set of rooms and furnishings that my mom has put together over the years. I just mean home. Being home. Something about it sends me dashing towards the other side of the spectrum, towards—not depression, but languor.

When I'm home, I find myself full of ideas and intentions but barely able to lift a finger towards them. The small bursts of energy and ambition I get are indeed small, about enough to lift a body over towards the TV and flip a few switches before abandoning said body into the sweet entropic descent that is Dr. Mario. Which is what I inevitably do. (I think I beat the computer on hard mode about 70 times this week, no exaggeration.)

Despite repeated attempts to get up early and begin doing things, I find myself sliding towards the wee hours of the morning and the single digits of the afternoon. Despite long lists of to-do's and goals and projects and destinations, despite ample room and resources, despite a wide open schedule and the realization that this is the time people are always talking about—"when I'm finally not so busy"—despite all of this I find I can't move from my chair. I can't get out of bed. I can't dial the phone.

This wouldn't be a problem if I was merely on vacation, home for a week or two here and there to just fritter about lazily, going out to eat nine times a week, attending parties and reunions and such in the short span between semesters. But I'm not really on vacation. I'm out of school for nearly five months a year: three in the summer and two in the winter. Technically I should be working—if not actually out there doing a nine-to-five, I should at least be writing, knocking chunks out of my soon-due thesis. I should be reading and writing and furthering my life's work, tuning up some serious hobbies. And if not any of that, I should be playing with my 12 nieces and nephews during the short time that they're young and I'm here. I should be assembling the basketball goal that no one's been able to assemble at my sister's; I should be painting family's living rooms and mowing their yards; I should be making myself, if not useful, at least helpful.

So why can't I? What is it about home that debilitates?

I once had three theories to try and explain this. One had to do with the idea of going home as putting on your old skin, of inhabiting old habits when in old places. I've felt this a lot in past years, but I think it's wearing off, or at least being updated as time goes on. See, the idea is that it's hard to be yourself when you go home because the self you used to be when you lived there encroaches on your present self. You sleep in old beds in old rooms and start acting like a teenager again.1

Another theory has to do with the suburbs. I read a book by Žižek a year or so ago that made no sense to me at the time. It was about how modern society has replaced what's real with what is imagined to be real and how big things like 9/11 shock us into seeing beyond the suburban spectacle for an instant before the seeing beyond becomes the spectacle and the real is hidden behind the thought of the real again, etc. etc. (You see why I didn't understand it, yes?) Anyway, it didn't really make sense, and I really didn't read much of the book at the time, but when I went home a few weeks later for break, suddenly it hit me one day what he was talking about and why the suburban life might be dangerous at times. It really freaked me out.

The third theory actually has nothing to do with this.

Phew. It took me all day to write this. Every time the thoughts were there the energy wasn't, and every time the energy was there I just wanted to go drop pills on some viruses. Which is what I plan to do right now.

1Which is why, if you want my advice, it's "Move out."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Isn't that the payback for being indiscreet?"

I've been thinking about something a friend once said. In London one day, a bunch of us were sitting around the dining room chatting about—what else?—love. The question on the table was "What have you learned about love in the past year?" and each person who walked into the room was asked to answer. The group had gotten rather large, and lots of good advice had been offered, but what I'll always remember is what Paul said when he walked in and was asked. Paul was pretty much the coolest guy in the house, so we were all anxious to hear what he had to say.

"Be discreet," he said, and then he shut up. (So clever!)

Someone asked what he meant. He explained: "Whatever feelings you have about a person should be between you and that person."

This was quite different advice than we had heard thus far. That was quite a different position than most of us were apt to take; it seemed every other conversation one overheard among our group was about crushes and signals and possibilities. 40-some-odd girls and 7 boys on a bus together twice a week was a recipe for giggling. My own brother had captivated the crew when he grabbed the bus microphone one day and told an epic of love. But Paul, now that I thought about it, never shared his own love stories, past or present. He had been silent on the matter of his own love-life.

So here is my reasoning:

Paul = cool
Paul = doesn't talk about love


Cool=not talking about love

This makes a lot of sense to me, on the one hand. I mean, I have a lot of stories about love. About failed love (all past-tense love stories with living protagonists are failed-love stories, more or less). Some days I feel like I'm walking around with a lot to regret. But here's the thing: I'm not so sure my future lover will care. When I was younger, so much younger than today, it seemed like every third or fourth date was the "life story" date. The one where you tell each other all about the clubs you were in in high school and about the trouble you caused and about the epic birthday parties and, of course, about the long list of boy- or girlfriends you've had. It seemed necessary for two to understand each other, for two to have proper conversation. But when I think about it, I don't really see any couples I know talking about all that stuff that happened to them before they got together. I don't see them worried about the string of relationships leading up to the present. Rather, it seems like those failed relationships, those "mistakes," never happened at all, or, it you insist on bringing them up, the person just shrugs them off as part of the process—but who would dwell on that when I've got her now? It's like all the hurt and scars have been healed by finding "the one," yadda yadda.

Sorry, I'm grossing myself out a bit with all this lovey-dovey vocabulary. But you get the idea. No in-love person I know is worried about the past very much, and as I've gotten older, I think I see why. So rather than wait for the moment when I too will feel no more shame at my love-mistakes, I feel like maybe I should take a page from Paul's book and shut up about them. If they come up I should just smile and let the mystery stand.

On the other hand, I'm a storyteller, and I don't have many better stories than the ones in which I'm a fool for love. I mean, you should've seen me last week telling J and G about that one time—I was on fire, and they were cracking up. I had them feeling all the passion, pain, embarrassment, indecision, and every other emotion I felt went it all went down that fateful night. I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up. Perhaps this is why writers turn to fiction...

A Whole 'Nother Question: How come I can't seem to talk around my own family? I'm all smarm and charm around my peers, but as soon as I get home I can't seem to put two words together.