Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Back from the mountain

We have returned from our big fat religious premarital counseling retreat weekend. It was a mess - I was really kind of disappointed by it. We came back to a dark city on Sunday night feeling exhausted, dirty, resentful, with L's glasses broken and my mood wrecked.

The retreat house, up in Poughkeepsie, looked like the hotel from "The Shining" - an imposing stone seminary built 100 years ago on the banks of the Hudson, surrounded by bare trees and stubby grass. It was creepy but interesting. There were 27 (!) couples there, and two lead couples who directed everything. Now, these couples are volunteers, and they are amazingly generous with their time and unswervingly open about their personal lives (over the course of the weekend we heard about their: battles with depression, mentally ill children, fertility troubles, financial woes, weight issues, troubling long-term arguments with their parents, resentments towards each other, and their sexual proclivities). They were very nice but hard to relate to - one couple was in the sixties and had an athletic team's worth of kids; the other was in their forties and lived in Connecticut. Neither pair really fit the mold of the hep-cat, urban-living, cool hipster-with-a-dash-of-metrosexual couple L and I plan on becoming (and frankly, to be perfectly honest, already are).

As soon as we got there we went around the circle of fiances and -cees and had to say one reason why we loved our partner. I turned to L and said, "I can't handle this." People extolled the wonders of their partners' sense of humor, generosity, warmth, selflessness, caring. I said I loved L's baking skills. It was that kind of weekend.

Basically the entire time a couple would give a talk to us about ourselves, our relationship, our future, the sacrament of marriage, the process of decision-making, religious family life, etc; then L and I would separate and write each other letters based on questions and things we were instructed to consider; then we would reconvene to meet in private and discuss these issues (or, alternatively, nap). From Friday night to Saturday night, we were good, and we made an honest, good faith effort to participate. L and I communicated in ways we usually don't; we were kind and open and loving in the written word in a way that is difficult to sustain when you are battling all of the distractions of daily life. So I am thankful that this retreat brought us closer together and gave us some insights about our commonalities and differences, our abiding love, our relationship with God, and the family we hope to create.

But then, on Saturday night, the whole thing went to hell. They started talking about birth control and natural family planning, and all of a sudden we had become these subversive rebels, like in "V for Vendetta," but instead of blowing up Parliament we wanted to hotwire a car and follow the Hudson back to the city before they made us write another got-darn letter. During the talk of natural family planning, the speakers were making some statements about contraceptives, and abortifacents, and the value of a child conceived out of wedlock that made L snort with derision and made me unable to maintain eye contact with anyone in the room. I thought what they were saying was insulting and patronizing, and wrong-headed. At that point, all of the day's frustrations came to head and they kind of lost us for the rest of the weekend. The next day, during what was supposed to be the spiritual highlight of the weekend, a renewal of our engagement promises, we couldn't even do it - I was not in the right mood, my mind was racing, and I just wanted to leave. It was sad.

So, over all, I think the curriculum of the weekend can be improved. I felt like it was a little simplistic at times, like they were assuming we had gotten engaged on a lark instead of getting engaged as the culmination of a process that took years. At times I felt like we were getting beat by a dogmatic 2 x 4, with an insulting lack of nuance or intelligence behind the explanations. Sometimes it was very New Agey and schmoopy, and there seemed to be an expectation of such blatant openness that I just couldn't sustain. I don't feel comfortable opening up about the dynamics of my relationship with people I don't know. I don't want to hug people I don't know. I don't want to be told what to do by people I don't know.

We were making jokes the entire weekend about our dismal plight - the monotony of the sessions, the frustration of not being able to go anywhere or really break new ground with our conversation. There weren't many new ideas introduced. L and I always took our engagement seriously, and we know the depth of the commitment we are preparing to make. But the retreat was disappointing, and sad, all the same. I tried to make the most of it, for the first 24 hours at least, so in large part it's my failure. But the resentment and disappointment and relief we felt on that train ride back to the city are not emotions I plan on bringing up to the altar.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spiritual thing

This weekend L and I are going on our pre-marriage counseling weekend-long retreat. Around the house, we've been calling it Celibacy Weekend 2006. Yep, thanks to the church's requirement that we unflinchingly examine all the quirks and contours of our relationship, we will be talking about "us" for 48 whole hours. I don't know if we even have that much to say. I haven't been on a religious retreat in a long time, and L and I are not exactly the most spiritual of couples. I would more describe our relationship as "secular humanist." But I have high hopes for this weekend. If nothing else, hopefully we'll have some good stories coming out of it. I get on the train in two hours, and I won't be back until Sunday afternoon. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 20, 2006

RIng of power

We bought my wedding ring this weekend. We went back to Tiffany and were helped by a nice chick our age named Veronica. I was trying a bunch of different rings on, including some with decorative flourishes like gilding around the edges. I wasn't sure how I felt about it. "Well, you have slender fingers," Veronica said hesitantly. "So that ring looks a little --" "Gay?" I offered. "Feminine," she said. "Yes," L agreed. No need to go gay for my wedding, but we picked out a good one. It's gold, yellow gold, pretty plain and simple, a nice weight, a certain heft to it, but classic and unpossessing. We will get it engraved with something nice. Right now it's sitting in a box on our shelf, wrapped in paper and tied up in a bow. I have never been more covetous and lustful of a piece of jewelry before. It's kind of like the Lord of the Rings ring, in terms of its significance and power over me and the way it holds my attention, but hopefully this ring will work out better for everyone involved. Hooray for matrimony!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Women we love: that Pussycat Doll

I think her name is Nicole. She's the lead "singer." I would never have expected to really enjoy the music of the Pussycat Dolls, given that their music sounds like classic bubblegum factory pop, but it turns out I do. I liked their second song, "Stickwitu," which actually means "I want to stick with you," but they're too busy and globe-trotting to say all that. It was a pretty sweet ballad, and it had some random harmonica moments that for me really unified the song and elevated it above the Ugg-wearing dreck of your Ashlees and Lindsays and Allies and AJ's. And their new song, "Beep," is a very "My Humps"-like song with spare production, catchy lyrics, and a really awesome beat. The music comes in and out and it's unpredictable and it's fantastic.

I have never heard the Dolls' music on the radio, so I have only gotten to know them through their music videos. And that's where Nicole comes in. She's beautiful, she has a pleasant voice, she has a smile that lights up the room, and she's a good dancer. Let's be honest, the other Pussycat Dolls are window-dressing. I mean, there's the redhead, the short black chick, eight or ten blondes, and the one with the pegleg. And then there's sweet, radiant, smiling Nicole. For seeming to be pleasant, for heading up a group that I have no business enjoying, for dancing well, for misspelling "definitelty" as "definately" on her official Pussycat Dolls website blog - she is a woman we love.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Night work

I just came back to New York this afternoon, and I feel really good about my time at home. I ate a lot of good food and slept a ton, and managed to be pretty darn lazy for a couple days without incurring the wrath of my industrious parents. They work harder than anyone else - even when they are "relaxing," they are slaving away in the yard pooper-scooping or rotating the shrubs or something. I don't know.

We watched "Walk the Line" with my grandparents, which was very interesting because they were around when all of those events transpired. I wonder what it's like to see all these pretty twenty-something actors recreate an era of your youth. Is it accurate? Does it matter? How is it to see something you genuinely knew become something fictional?

I was thinking about my grandparents, and I was thinking about this amazing short story collection I just read, Judy Budnitz's "Nice Big American Baby," and I started to write. I thought about a sentence my grandma had said over the course of the weekend and I went from there. My only goal was to create something suspenseful and realistic. I used geography from my childhood and names from my family. In Budnitz's work, she takes a weird or creepy or supernatural premise and just follows it through, but in a very spare way. It's like in fashion when they try to get away with as little fabric as possible to make a dress - or, alternatively, revealing skin you never expected to see to begin with. Budnitz does the same thing with her writing: using a few broad strokes to create a frame and letting the reader fill in the rest, or placing the whole weight of a concept on a few lines of dialogue, trusting the reader to come in and add something more vivid than the writer herself could create.

That sounds high-falutin'. But basically after three nights of work I wrote a little story that I kind of like, so I'm going to spend the next few days revising it. I creeped myself out writing it, so I guess that's a good sign. It feels so good to write something fictional - to create my own world with its own characters, and to try to at least do it well enough on the terms I choose to construct it with.

Last night in bed I was fantasizing about seeing my fiction published in the New Yorker - I could picture my name in their font, I could see myself listed as a contributor. Hot fantasy, eh??

Saturday, March 11, 2006


I am in McLean now, after my whirlwind trip to Charlottesville. After a few visits back to my old haunts, I think I can safely say that I love that town, but not enough to live there. With that said, here is the weirdest and most memorable thing that happened:

One of the attendees of the big party last night was our fun friend Kim, who brought along a friend of hers from Marietta, Ohio, who, for the purposes of disparagement and mockery, I shall call "Marietta." It turns out she is married but her husband wasn't there. During the party she emphatically gave me a lot of unsolicited advice about how to be married. "Always communicate," she blathered. "You want to head things off at the pass. Make sure things are totally out there."

"Yeah, that's really important," I would say, nodding. I was trying to make eye contact with someone else, and pretending to be deeply interested in the label on my beer bottle. "Is your husband here tonight?"

"He lives in North Dakota." Marietta's husband lived in North Dakota, while Marietta, for those of you keeping score, lives in Ohio. They were married a few months ago, and he lives out in freaking North Dakota for some job-related reason. Awesome.

Later that night, around 1, several of us went to go out dancing for a few hours. In the taxi on the way there, Marietta was seriously trying to put some moves on me. She was drunk as a skunk. "Since we're both married, this is ok," she slurred at me. Her breath was like Cheezits and beer. "All right," I said, trying to extract myself. She was trying to intertwine her fingers with mine, so I gave her a platonic pat on the shoulder and sort of shoved her away. "No, really, it's ok," she whispered. It was not ok.

On the dance floor she was all over me, as well as my friend Greg. Grinding her butt towards us, grabbing at our hands and leading us in awkward turns and twists, trying to make deep eye contact and allure us with gawky arm movements and arrhythmic pelvic thrusts. "No, this is ok," she would say when violently tried t0 get away from her. "Don't you think this is ok?"

It was so gross. This was the worst married person I had ever seen. I spent the whole night avoiding her and ignoring her overtures. A couple points: 1) I did not want to dance with her. 2) I did not want to commit some kind of premature adultery to my beloved sober fiancee, L. 3) I did not want to aid or abet in the eventual destruction of Marietta's own marriage. It was really sad and horrifying.

On our way out of the club, at 4:30 in the morning, our group was gradually crossing the street in the hopes of getting a taxi. After watching Marietta assault the males all night, Kim told Kateri that Marietta actually had a husband. "Marietta, you're married?" she yelled across the street. The girl nodded and said she was married. Kateri looked incredulous: "To who?"

Friday, March 10, 2006

Time travel

In two hours I'm getting on a train for Washington, then I'm getting on another train and heading straight down to Charlottesville. Spring Break just started and I'm going back to Cville for a birthday party at Kateri's house, in honor of the 5th anniversary of our friend Jenn's 21st birthday. I feel like i'm going back in time - I'm going to see people I haven't seen in years (Greg, Kim, even Jenn and Kateri and others too), for a house party featuring beer pong and flip cup, in a town I knew and loved years ago. I won't have a car, I won't have Lillian. It feels like I'm moving back in time five or six years. I'm looking forward to it, and also looking forward to the long weekend at home I'm going to enjoy before I come back to the city.

I've been thinking a lot about why I've been so angry and frustrated lately, and I think getting out of here will do me a world of good. I'm excited to step back and take a breath. A nice train ride this afternoon, with a fresh New Yorker and a good dinner and some good beer waiting for me at the other end - is a great way to start. See you back home.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Saturday night should have been lovely. I had a great dinner with Ashesh and then came home to putter around the apartment and do some schoolwork. Next weekend I am going home, and I am trying to finagle a trip down to Charlottesville on Friday - a trip that requires me to get from Manhattan to Cville in an afternoon. I was looking online at a bunch of different websites - Travelocity, Amtrak, Expedia, American Airlines, and nothing was working. The train I was looking for seemed to be nonexistent; the customer service people wouldn't tell me my frequent flier password, even when I was patient and courteous as I was tranferred through outsourced customer service personnel from Mumbai to Guajrat. And on top of all that, the DVR that L had installed that very day had somehow messed up our cable signal, so the television was unwatchable and I had to miss Saturday Night Live. And, I had to prepare for a law school presentation on Sunday that I had to wear a suit for and do homework for on a Saturday night. I started getting angry.

"What the FUCK," I said. L was in the kitchen area and I was stalking around the living room, surrounded by old bills, hastily-scrawled phone numbers, useless television remote controls, and a deadening sense of rage. I hung up after talking to another bitchy old cow in customer service and was at that level of anger where you almost start crying. I was incredibly frustrated and made up a mental list of things I hated at that moment: 1) law school; 2) Amtrak; 3) American Airlines; 4) "customer" "service"; 5) outsourcing to people whose language skills are not quite up to par. "God DAMN IT," I hissed at my cellphone. "I hate this shit so much" -- my Tourette's outburst was in full swing at this point -- "fuck everything, I am SO SICK of this SHIT." I looked around at the shambles of my life and heard the heater barking and tapping crazily. "God, why is it so hot, it's the fucking WINTERTIME," I bellowed, ripping my fleece off. "It's like a FUCKING SAUNA in here!"

I'm not used to being enraged around other people. L actually didn't enjoy my outburst and left to go on a walk. I stayed behind to sulk and consider ways I might be a more considerate and less Hulk-like roommate. I turned the heat off. And now our apartment has a cute new nickname: "the fucking sauna."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Book review: "The Underminer"

I am currently reading a fantastic book called "The Underminer: Or, The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life," by Mike Albo and Virginia Heffernan. The book takes the form of a series of one-sided conversations spanning fifteen years in the relationship of the nameless protagonist and the Underminer - a friend who is always just a little smarter, a little better-looking, a little more accomplished, yet is blindingly oblivious and completely scathing in his relationship to you. This is the friend who makes you feel like crap.

I am loving this book because it is hysterical and just so damn cutting. James got it to me for my birthday, after I almost got it for him for his birthday, and it is perfect. Because if there's anyone whose life I am sort of casually destroying, it's James. And I am sure he would say the same of me. Anyways, here's an email I sent him trying to imitate the utterly inimitable "Underminer" style. This book is highly recommended.


Wow, I can’t believe you still have a hotmail email account! That’s so funny! Man, I thought like only high schoolers had those. I mean, most people I know have emails from their graduate schools or their investment banks, but that’s great. Like, my email address is at Fordham. You know, because I go to law school there. But that’s really fun that you still have a hotmail account. You were always so crazy!

So you want to watch “the Bachelor” finale tonight? I didn’t know anyone who actually watched that show! I mean, I guess I’m just more into art galleries and international fiction, but that is just so funny. I always thought it was like these illiterate fat red-staters who watched trash like “the Bachelor,” but now I guess you do too! Well, it does kind of make sense. You were always really into popular culture and following the group.

That’s so funny how you’re exactly the same as always. Good ol’ James – you were never one to change or grow or develop! So different from the rest of us!