maya angelou

images“You endured some really horrible things, mostly at the hands of men,” somebody at AARP ‘s Monthly magazine said to Maya Angelou in a 10 question Q & A  last spring. “Have gender relations improved?

Here’s how she  responded:

“No, I think men are as crazy as they were and women are as crazy as they were.”I think it’s wise when women say what they like and don’t like and will and won’t take. Men ought to do the same. I’ve never had a dislike for men. I’ve been badly treated by some but I’ve been loved greatly by some. I married quite a lot of them.”

As I say, gotta love her!

We’ll Always Have Paris: On Hanging In

T&D happy in parisWhat Mindy Kaling says about her parents’ marriage is all well and good but are WE pals, the many rest-of-us coupled up and marching together in life? Based on my experience, here’s how you can tell:

You’re pals if you started married life thinking it was funny to throw cups of cold water from the bathroom sink over the shower curtain and onto your spouse, all nice and toasty and soaped up in there.

You’re pals if, even decades later, you both still laugh when one of you reaches for the drinking cup while the other is just stepping into the shower

The two of you are pals if you say nothing about the fact that a CERTAIN PERSON in the marriage never, ever wipes off the sink after shaving, leaving puddles that drip down to leave white marks on that nice wooden vanity you had to really stretch to buy.  (You used to say plenty about this habit, but your remarks had no effect so you gave up. “Pick your battles,” wise older souls have told you all along and now you get what that means.

You’re pals if that person says nothing about the fact that for some reason you can no longer cook a meal without opening all the doors to the kitchen cabinets and then leaving them open. (It’s a mystery why you do this. “Creative ferment?” you try telling your spouse, who just gives you that studiedly neutral look on seeing them and before quietly going around shutting them all.

You’re pals – and you can stay pals – if you can master this neutral look, as it is far safer than a smile, which can be seen as a smirk, or a gloat, or what it usually is: the ill-fitting mask for a scowl.

In fact in the name of marital accord you must ban many looks, from the I-Told-You-So look to the I’m-a-Saint-For Putting-Up-With-You look. Facial expressions like these send malevolent veils out into air that twist and curl and choke off all good will in a marriage.

Kaling says no, she never did see her parents gazing into one another’s faces – unless perhaps her mom was administering drops to her dad’s eyes. She says gazing isn’t necessary when you are pals and I think she’s right. If you hang in long enough to become pals you can tell how the other one’s day has been, just at a glance.

When I first got married, my mom started referring to my husband as ‘Silent Sam,’ as a joke, just because, unlike the rest of us in the family, he didn’t feel the need to talk until his listeners all lapsed into comas. Maybe I too wished he talked more at first, but after a time I began to ‘get’ him.

I remember thinking he didn’t care that much for our little cat – until after she went missing for several days. Then one morning she suddenly popped out of the bushes. “Here she is!” he cried from where he stood in our driveway and just for a second I saw his knees buckle with relief.

I think Mindy’s exactly right: Spend enough time living right close to people and you can’t help starting to love them . And gazing and pretty speeches hardly come in to it at all.

Oh and that’s us, above . November of 2004, Paris. Gooood time!

C’mon Married People

mindy kalingI just finished reading Mindy Kaling’s 2012 book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns, a part-memoir, and part-general-musings-kind of a book that dances right on the edge of the funny and the moving.

Mindy stars in The Mindy Project on FOX, but for many seasons prior she has also played the inimitable Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s blockbuster hit, The Office. She has, in also written, directed and co-produced many episodes of both shows. No flies on this girl!

One short section of the book shows what I mean about her ability to both amuse us and touch us. It’s about marriage, and her parents’ marriage in particular. She says her parents get along because they are pals. They like to talk about the same things.

“In my parents’ case, they can spend and entire day together talking nonstop about rhododendrons and Men of A Certain Age, watch Piers Morgan, drink a vanilla milkshake and go to bed.”

I should point out that the name of this section is “C’mon Married People” and in it she talking directly to us wedded folk.

She begins by saying she doesn’t want to hear about the endless struggles to keep the ‘spark’ in marriage or about the work it takes to plan date night.

Instead,

“I want to hear that you guys watch every episode of The Bachelorette together in secret shame, or that one got the other hooked on Breaking Bad and if either watches without the other, they’re dead meat….

I want to see you guys high-five each other like teammates on a recreational softball team you both do for fun. I want to hear about it because I know it’s possible, and because I want it for myself.”

That right there. That’s the what I mean about the disarming double tone:  “I want to hear about it because I know it’s possible, and because I want it for myself.”

She says, she guesses that “happiness can come in a bunch of forms, and maybe a marriage with tons of work makes people feel happy. But part of me still thinks… is it really so hard to make it work? What happened to being pals?

 “I’m not complaining about Romance Being Dead – I’ve just described a happy marriage based on talking about plants and a canceled Ray Romano show and drinking milkshakes; not exactly rose petals and gazing into each other’s eyes at the top of the Empire State Building. I’m pretty sure my parents have gazed into each other’s eyes maybe once, and that was so my mom could put eye-drops in my dad’s eyes.”

Funny, right?

“I’m not saying that marriage should be easy, but we get so gloomily worked up about it these days.”

And that part’s surely true, is it not?

“Maybe marriage IS work,” she says, “but you may as well pick work that you like.So “Married people it’s up to you. It’s entirely on your shoulders to keep this sinking institution afloat. It’s a stately old ship, and a lot of people, like me, want to get on board. Please by psyched, and convey the psychedness to us.

And always remember, she ends by saying, “so many, many people are envious of what you have. You’re the star at the end of the Shakespearean play, wearing the wreath of flowers in your hair. The rest of us are just the little side characters.

And there it is: a sweet, funny and sage perspective on marriage from a single girl. Next in this space: Companion thoughts on marriage from someone more than 40 (?!) years in.

Adam’s Apple

Yesterday was Father’s Day, today’s my anniversary – how much fond personal narrative can  the blogosphere stand? And yet, I can’t resist…

Robert Louis Stevenson called marriage “a sort of friendship recognized by the police.”

I guess that’s one person’s account of it.  

Here’s another, from Annie Dillard’s beautiful novel The Maytrees.

The Maytrees are in this scene a young husband and wife, living in Provincetown: 

She lay shipwrecked on the sheets. She surfaced like a dynamited bass. She opened her eyes and discovered where on their bed she had fetched up. She lay spread as a film and as fragile.… She loved Maytree, his restlessness, his asceticism his, especially, abdomen…

Maytree, flexed beside her, was already asleep. He usually fell asleep as if dropped from a scarp. From above he would look as if his parachute failed. Intimacy could not be unique to her and Maytree, this brief blending, this blind sea they entered together divng.

His neck smelled as suntan does, his own oil heated, and his hair smelled the same but darker. He was still fresh from an outdoor shower. Awareness was a braided river. It slid down time in drops or torrents.

Now she as he woke the room seemed to get smarter. His legs moved and  their tonus was tight. Her legs were sawdust; they were a line old rope shreds on sand. All her life the thought of his body made her blush.

“We should get up”  Maytree said and moor the dory. Tide’s coming in.”

Now he stood and brushed sand from the side of the sheet. They always had sand in the bed it. It was a wonder she was not slimmer….

I’m happy to say I find marriage to be more like this second account than the first. Friendship is crucial of course – also the ability to laugh at yourself, to forgive and to admit that you’re no picnic to live with either. But if you also have those times when you get taken outside yourself? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake. 🙂

I am a Saint and He is a Jackass

wall-street-journal Last Sunday I bought the Christmas tree and dragged it onto the porch by myself. I was mad at Old Dave I’m not sure why and thought THIS’ll show him. I’ll buy the tree alone. In 11 degree weather. With winds gusting to 40 mph.

All it did of course was bring frostbite to my ears and further injury to my crooked little spine when, once home, I cut the ropes that held it to my car roof, tugged it free and then tried to catch it. Boom! I went, right down on the ground under the 8-foot thing, but since playing martyr gives you super-human strength I toiled on, dragging it by its hair clear up the front steps and onto the porch.

He did help me put it up – minus the lights and ornaments of course because Come ON! I’m watchin’ the GAME here! – but now he’s gone all week on business.

Luckily, I have this nice fake lights-attached tree that I’ve just now pulled from its cardboard coffin and set up in the kitchen.

All I really want for Christmas this year by the way is to get rid of the old kitchen window which is etched with these chemical stains like permanent frost-blossoms so you can’t even SEE out it practically. All I want is a nice new little window to look out at the world from.

Because I am a saint and he is a bastard. A Sudoku-doing, crossword-puzzle-addicted, sports junkie bastard but still, he should really come home now. Even the cats miss him, and all this time they thought he was a piece of furniture- but wait! What’s that noise coming from out back? You don’t suppose he’s been hiding in the garage all this time to get away from me!

Da-a-a-ave?? Come in now Dave! This kitchen tree is so pretty we don’t even HAVE to decorate the real one. I’ll cook and you can just go on drowning in newsprint in front of your games – and the cats can sit on you, same as always.:-)

abe-is-sad-now-too we all miss you. look, even the cats are crying!