Monday, February 27, 2012

"Loneliness Will Eat Me": An Edible Mishap of a Narrative

It was the cake that had nothing going for it.

The bag of shredded carrots had been labelled "Best Used Before December 7, 2011". I had run out of eggs and then scrounged a few from some unsuspecting roommate. The 1.5cups of veggie oil was supplemented with olive oil (yes, extra virgin). The mixing wasn't working quite right. I didn't sift the dry ingredients and the bits of carrot turn slightly green in color, giving the whole cake a greyish hugh under the yellow electric light of late night kitchen work. There wasn't enough cream cheese for the icing but I wasn't going to run to a store to get more so I made do with a little more butter.

I'm not kidding when I say it had nothing going for it.


The Saturday had not been what I had imagined. Friday has included several hours of dance workshops and a salsa social. Saturday was State Patty's Day, a time when the very air and energy of downtown is exhausting to me. Against my natural will to hide in my bed, I had spent 4 hours in a snow fall and heavy wind handing out hot chocolate to boisterous revelers in green tshirts and left over mardi gras bling. Then a nap had swept me into the evening. It was a windy dark and I was suddenly keenly aware that I did not want to be alone. This feeling had been following me around for most of the week following the refreshing time at Jubilee. I just didn't want to be caught in my own presence without proper warning. I wanted to choose my own quiet. I didn't want it chosen for me.

So I scrambled. I facebooked and called and texted and pleaded. In the end, it was me and Robbie Parks who walked through the growingly uncontrolled harsh-throated male yells and high pitched female laughs and screeches. We arrived just at "The Muppet Movie" began in the HUB, getting in with our old and expired student ids. It was a charming movie that inspired laughter and some dancing in our theater seats.

But it was short. We chatted with another friend about the coming Oscars and walked back toward our corner of the world.

And the diversion of a few hours was over. I was alone again.

I've been reading "Still" by Lauren Winner. It is her latest book, somewhere between a collection of essays and a memoir. She calls them "Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis". She described in one vignette the intense experience of loneliness. How she rushes to fix it, to ignore it, to call a friend, pour herself another drink, read a book: anything to avoid loneliness. But how she is trying to wait for Loneliness to have its way, to sit with it a while, that maybe it has something for her.

Still, I relate with the great belief that Loneliness threatens my existence. Winner describes it like this, "I ask her what she has for me. She takes a letter opener from her bag and tells me she can kill me if she wants to" (Winner 59). And tonight, I am particularly terrified that this Loneliness is going to catch me and eat me.

I am trying to practice "acceptance", though. Accept what is and not fight against the silent heavens for what is not. Job on a super small scale. So I sit and wait. I read some more of "Still". I put my phone face down. I get off facebook because I keep compulsively checking to make sure that someone remembers I'm there and that they still want to be friends with me. I turn on some music. Then turn it off again. Then turn it on again.

Baking a cake seems like the best option, the middle ground between doing nothing and running away from the eating. It seemed the best option to just make something and maybe eating it would keep Loneliness from eating me.

 I choose  Josh Garrel's "Love & War & The Sea Inbetween" as my soundtrack and began.

Later, I told Hannah about this loneliness. How I don't have a good reason for it. That I have the best roommates in the world. That I see her [hannah] every few days. That church is good. My students are good. The weather is good. My life is full of being with people and dancing and talking and good things.

She answers: "That is the worst kind. It comes even in a group of people and so when you tell someone that you are lonely, they think you are being selfish. But really, you are actually lonely. You don't choose it. It just happens."


The cake had been in the oven 2 minutes when Fraleigh called. Sara had come into town and they were heading to the swing dance. I turned the oven off and went dancing.

Yes, I decided to run. Was it running? Yes. I somehow justified it by saying "Someone else invited me!" And I did feel better. Blood moving. Some fun Lindy hop. A great chat with a man from Hyderabad about recent politics in Andra Pradesh.

Then I went home. Walked in the door. And discovered that Melanie in being herself had attempted to finish the cakes AND clean the sprawling mess I had left. I had every intention of coming back and cleaning the mess myself. Did she not realize this? The cake had been baked for a strange amount of time and then turned off and then turned on again. I guessed at how much longer it needed. I yanked my icing supplies out of the cupboards again.

I was irrationally angry at her attempt to help with the Loneliness cake. And she knew it.

Then I drank tea and felt better about it.

This cake, really and truly, had nothing going for it. I abandoned "Loneliness" once it came out of the oven and decided to deal with it in the morning.
Sunday: The loneliness feeling is still there but not as strong. Mel and I laughed in unspoken reconcilliation over her cake interference as both halves of the cake refused to come out of the pans and broke in half and crumbled in various places and had to be glued together with clumpy icing and barely, just barely, managed to look and smell and taste like a carrot cake.

I spend the afternoon after church with some friends in Saints Cafe. I am there long enough to use my teabag three times until it no longer has anything left to steep. I tell them about my Saturday night and the cake and Mel trying to fix it and swing dancing and how ugly it is and how I named it "Loneliness Will Eat Me". And they laugh and Dan in particular insists that there is nothing pathetic about being alone on a Saturday night. That it's a gift, actually. Anjali asks for a picture. They both ask that I bring it to the Oscars party because "It can't be as bad as you say it is."

So I take it. We eat most of it while tallying our points for the most accurate predictions and drinking the "Alpine Spice" wine and noting that the cake and the wine are a good pairing. Zach insists that is isn't half as bad as I think it is. Many people take seconds. And little by little,--as our quips at Billy Crystals non-humor pile up and the list of Benedict sightings grows slightly greater in number and we all promise ourselves to see "Hugo" as soon as possible-- the Threat of Loneliness seems to dwindle one small bite at a time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blogging Neglect

In "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul", Doug Adams has his main character, Dirk Gently, meditate on the refrigerator that looms in the corner of his kitchen. Sulks, even. This fridge has a personality and a menacing one at that. It is so filthy inside that it is an unspoken war between him and his cleaning lady as to who will open it first. Neither of them does. He contemplates just having the entire fridge thrown out and getting a new one.

But it hangs about the back of his mind like a shadow.

And that, my dear readers, is what I feel about this blog.

It is looming. It is menacing. It gets angrier the longer I neglect it. And yet I cannot think of a single thing to tell it. To tell you.

"We are unwilling to speak unless we are to say something that will amaze the whole room."
"This bears no striking resemblance to your own character, I'm sure."

[name that quote]

Friday, February 03, 2012

On Seeing A Classmate 3 Years Later

It's happening to me more and more.

Seeing a friend. An acquaintance. An old acquaintance. You, perhaps. Seeing you the same moment you see me. And out of our mouths at the same moment: "How are you?"

We stand waiting for a response. It takes the length of a thought to realize we asked the same thing at the same time. It takes another synaptic pause for us to understand that we're both waiting for the other person to answer.

Or perhaps we've both answered already. And we realize (or I realize) that I didn't hear the answer. I didn't hear my answer either. I assume I said that life has been "Good. Busy." And that you have answered the same.

But it's been a while. Years, maybe, since you've had this reorientation to my existence. I confess: I may have never even thought of you in those years. But here you are.

And all the memories of all of our interactions come crowding at once. The good. The bad. The awkward. The adventures. The changes I've seen in life the last three years. How I've grown up a little bit since that class when we disagreed, or the way I would retreat to my tent each night to hide from how I couldn't figure out how to be "normal" or "comfortable" around you and our classmates on the camping trip. How three years ago, I was much closer to the sheltered, cautious girl I was when I came to university.

So I ask again, "How are you?"

I cannot think of any other question to ask.

I listen to the answer this time. You seem to not notice that this is the second time I've asked the question and answer it more detail.

I am interested. I promise.

You ask how I am again.

I answer in more detail. You say, "That's awesome!" when I say that I'm working for a church, though I know enough that you probably don't think it's "awesome" but really don't have a word for it. So you congratulate me. And I'm grateful for that instinct anyway.

We have nothing much else to say. And it is as if we carry the same standing we did 3 years ago when we were both a bit younger and a bit more awkward. Or, I was at least.

So we both smile as if this was brilliant fortune that we should run into each other. We exchange hugs. "Well, it was great to see you!"

And as if three years hadn't passed, I retreat out the nearest door.

Will I ever grow up?