Category Archives: Mating

The Noodles After the Last Time

With no small sense of wonder, I watch myself say hello to the waitress, a nerdy young Vietnamese woman with enormous black rimmed glasses, and I watch myself order food. It is absolutely incredible to me. My body is clenched so tightly with pain that I can barely sit up in my chair. I just climbed down out of the back window of my house, following my suitcase and guitar, to avoid seeing any of the people, the loving friends, gathering outside my bedroom door. It would have been too much. Too painful. How are the words, “and an order of spring rolls” coming out of my mouth? But there they are. Moving out into the air between us. Independent of everything that is me they emerge and elicit a smiling response from the waitress who dashes off to bring me the first food I’ll attempt to eat since yesterday, well after the sun has set and I looked into her eyes for the last time. After I touched her hands for the last time. After I held her in a tango embrace, both of us crying, trying to remember every detail of her eyes, her nose, the curve of her hip, just touching and holding for the last time.

The waitress stops by later and, bending down to look up at my face, which I can’t seem lift from my chest, says, “You’ve got the look.” I freeze. I don’t want to talk about it. Is it obvious? Does she know? I don’t want to talk about it. I have nothing to say. Just move along and stop noticing me. I’m not really here. I’m sick and you might catch it. Maybe I can just run for the door. If I rip a handful of money from my wallet and just throw it on the table… “The look of someone who’s pretty full,” she says.

I glance over at the pile of uneaten food before me. The bowl of my favorite noodles. The pile of spring rolls. “Yeah, I guess I’ll need some boxes,” I hear myself say.

As always, follow the photo link to the photographer’s site.

Mysteries of Love from a Dying Chinese Woman

I was extremely fortunate to have been in China just weeks before my girlfriend Weishi’s Da Gu (first aunt) died. There was an old wooden box full of smooth stones near the back door, and she walked up and down on it with bare feet each morning. Whether a way of stimulating certain nerves in the soles of her feet or just serving as a meditative practice, it was supposed to help somewhat with the extreme pain of the stomach cancer that was slowly killing her.

Da Gu was an extremely tough woman. She never once let her physical ailments get in the way while spending time with us, and she insisted on making us tea and having ranting, passionate discussions with me. After growing up in China as a child, she had traveled to England to study english literature. She returned to work as a reporter and, ultimately, editor for the China Daily, China’s english language newspaper. Her use of the english language was so far superior to my own that I felt almost as ignorant saying hello as when I tried to discuss American history and politics with her.

Da Gu’s ex-husband was a literature professor, and apparently just as tough, opinionated, and stubborn as she was. They had been divorced for more than fifteen years, and to the day still took the time to argue with each other. She explained that two people so strong willed could simply never make it work. What she said next etched itself forever into my brain. “But if I was ever going to get married again, it would only be to him.” Weishi assured me that he had said the same thing to her.

Several weeks after I left China, the cancer finally won out. Someone likely scattered the smooth stones that took in so much pain, leaving them, too, to rest. I wonder how her ex-husband felt now that she was gone. To me those almost, but not quite, solvable problems that linger forever are the most tragic. Is there a point when they should have given in and cut off communication forever? Or was it the dynamic struggle that made what was left of their relationship so irresistible? Maybe, once again, the only answer is to continue to ask.

Ugliness in Rejection

I was once given a warning about a guy I’d just met and it stemmed from something he’d said to a girl he was dating. Apparently he’d told her, “Face it. You’re fat and no other guy will ever be attracted to you”. From the language I think it’s already clear that this was at the tail end of a failing relationship, but what might not be clear is that they had dated for more than a year. I just heard another rumor recently about someone I consider a friend. He said some similar things, including calling the girl who was leaving him, “ugly”, which in this case was impossible to imagine.

Granted, no one is hitting or stabbing anyone here, but I myself am pretty much incapable of saying these kinds of things to people, and I have to admit that it’s a bit surprising to hear, even in the context of a relationship that’s souring. But it made me think about what it is that I do in those situations instead of lashing out openly. I’ve certainly been the one being left behind, and there is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness in the rejection I feel when it’s clear that someone I love is separating from me.

Telling someone they are ugly, fat, or stupid is a quick and dirty way to put someone lower on your hierarchy when you’re scrambling to keep their opinion from mattering. On the flip side, at times in the past I’ve made myself completely unappealing by wildly struggling to anticipate, and be, everything that my significant other must have wanted, turning me into a driveling, pathetic mush. More commonly, though, I think my unconscious strategy has been to transform the process into a cerebral challenge and a story I’m writing.

The challenge is to solve the puzzle by gathering all of the pieces of data and using them to construct an understanding of why the breakup is starting to occur. This understanding does in fact have a lot of value in helping work out problems, but it’s also a really great way to emotionally detach from the details as each is categorized for analysis and placed in a box.

As things move ever more quickly towards their inevitable conclusion, I craft the events into a poetic story and start adding it to the collection of stories that make up my life. By doing this even as it occurs, it gives the event purpose, meaning and value. The breakup and suffering become, in fact, a process of creation, the very thing that makes the blood flow through my artist veins.

In the aftermath, this stage becomes crucial and I am very disappointed if I haven’t harvested my intense emotions for poetic profit. Fortunately, this does no harm to my long term relationship with my former girlfriends. Better yet, by avoiding pawning their iPods, burning down their apartment buildings or, worst of all, calling them ugly I’ve so far been able to emerge with some interesting scars, a nice little musical repertoire, and some incredible lifelong friends.

What Happens When You Add Years

Pirate Kai at Flipside Photo BoothIn one of my favorite moments of irrational young angst, my (lesbian) friend Shannon, who was being inundated by suitors, reached such a peak of confusion that she cried out in genuine dismay, “why is this girl sending me flowers?!” At the time, I was the one laughing until it hurt. Now, years later, we laughed together as we talked about the process of aging.

As an artist and highly social being it’s not something I come in contact with all that often. My friends range in age from twenty to forty and I rarely know where they fall in that spectrum because their level of enthusiasm, creativity and experience are much more relevant to me than the number of years they’ve had the option to engage the world. All too often I’ve met people in the their mid twenties who are so much more comfortable with themselves and have explored so much more of the world than others who have never stopped in all of their fifty years on earth to look into a mirror.

Because of this, I was completely unprepared for my first confrontation with the concept of aging. My friend Monkey had a birthday a few years back. He’s about ten years younger than me and swore that nothing could wear him out. His birthday gift of total athletic exhaustion started with a morning of intense martial arts sparring and then he was handed off to me. I set up rounds of squash, wrestling, and swimming which have all done a pretty good job of exhausting me in the past if I do them long enough. I hadn’t actually wrestled since high school, but at the time even a feisty little guy like me could be brought to the point of complete immobility by the drills we did.

After a few games of squash I started going through a series of takedowns with Monkey when suddenly something happened. I stopped. Not because I wanted to. I had his head and shoulders locked up and I was about to flip him over for a Russian Roll when suddenly… I couldn’t go anywhere. I heaved and sputtered and finally had to stop for a second, apologize, and start again. It happened a second time. And a third. It was freaky. My legendary boundless energy had, for the first time in my recent memory, completely run out.

At first I was in a panic about the weird illness I must have picked up. Now it was time for my older friends to laugh at me. Apparently, the ability to spike in energy, that impulse push, was the first thing they noticed fading. I immediately melted down and frantically began listing every activity I could start learning now and still do when I was eighty. Clearly, I was almost incapacitated and needed to study Go, Tango dancing, and bridge ASAP.

The word “age” suddenly meant the slow death of all things precious to me until, during my conversation with Shannon, she used it in a very different way. She talked about how happy she was to no longer be twenty, and sent into emotional overload by the irrelevant details of life. She talked about perspective and self confidence. Perspective is something I grew pretty quickly and is something I am proud of having been able to offer others for a long time. But then I realized what had changed for me in a positive way.

While I’ve always been comfortable and happy with who I am, only recently have I been able to see how much my experience has given me some pretty formidable skills. I woke up one day while on the project in India and realized that I was, in fact, a complete badass of versatility. Out there in the field, after having memorizing several technical manuals on the plane so that I could shoot confidently with new equipment, I was having partial German conversations at midnight with an engineer in Germany so that he would send me a firmware patch for our equipment. I was hacking code. I was setting up backup systems. I was working really well with people, often without the benefit of spoken language. By the end, I was already learning some of the language. I was shooting some great footage from extreme positions and often while running. I could have fixed our jeep if it had broken down. I could have built a house from scratch. In two weeks I’ll be performing Indian music at a wedding. All together it feels really, really good to finally realize the value I can provide. Now I just have to tag this realization with a word, its source, that thing that has caused me so much angst… aging.

Photos are from a photo booth set up by the excellent photographer Steve Noreyko.