Tuesday, February 14, 2023

on exes and exorcisms

Love is a tricky mistress. When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I acknowledged that the fairy tale dreams were bullshit, even while occasionally going on dates and having minor flings.  Because it's what you did if you wanted romance (and obv. sex in the pre-Tinder age). Because romance was both terrible, but also kind of fun if you didn't take it too seriously. Part of my ambivalence was just circumstances of being really busy with other things--college, grad school, finding jobs and writing. I met men, some in person, a few online, and there were short-term liaisons and uninspiring strings of dates in coffee shops and art museums. I liked some more, some less. These were usually of pretty short duration. I was too much or they were too much or we were both too little.  Early on, I drew a little from them for poems, which didn't happen all that often since the kinds of poems I was writing were definitely based more in a persona-focused style of writing. Ie, my stories were woven in the larger web of things happening in any given poem. 

This changed in my thirties, when I had firmly embraced solo-poly life, which I was just beginning to understand as my ideal relationship style. I was dating a lot more. I was also getting more comfortable in my body and with my desires. Some lengthy entanglements, others shorter. Sometimes several at once, sometimes just one. One better relationship that spanned both decades was mostly about four years of scandalously dirty e-mails and occasional but infrequent visits. Another, 10 years of high drama and passion with short gaps. Another, on/off so much I wasn't sure it actually qualified as a relationship. A crush on a male friend I spent an entire year chasing that never materialized. Weird short bursts, some dramatic, some tepid and fun but not really sustainable. Lots of 2-3 date series getting to know people and discovering I really didn't want to know them. Some were internet dates and meetings in bars. Some literally showed up at my door in the form of delivery men who asked me out. (okay, just the one, and it wasn't really the porn scenario he'd hoped for..lol..)

These men made it into poems, though sometimes, I created a Frankenstein of their worst traits. My major characters in minor films book had a lot about the 10-year ordeal. As did dirty blonde, which I used as a way to ill-advisedly re-open communication between us 5 years later. The shipwrecks of lake michigan poems were about the delivery man / engineering grad who I turned into a physicist because it was sexier. There were also longer relationships that never quite made it into poems, or only in small details and situations. Emily D's more slanted truth.  Some weren't memorable enough to earn a mention at all.  These men merge together to prove a point, or just slip in anecdotally in a poem about something else entirely. Nothing is purely autobiographical. Nothing is not.

This was true even in good, long-lasting healthy relationships. I tried to write a book of love poems for my current partner of 8 years as a Valentine early on and even that, due to some strange circumstances outside the relationship, morphed into a book about men and women and the me-too conversations in society at large and navigating romantic relationships with men in general. I think the initial impetus and details of those poems came from that framework, but they wound up being about something else. As far as I know, he's never read these poems, but knows the contents of them and that they exist. Some day we will have a laugh and I'll show him. Outside of that, the better relationships, the sounder ones, have far less appearances in poems, but I think that's just a condition of culture. 

And of course, that current long, actually healthy relationship has deepened over the years, and in the between, wasn't really captured in poems. This may change. I also haven't been writing as many autobiographical things, but then that's probably not really true.They are there, just in poems that seem to be about other things entirely. Some that current relationship, others details that make sense to include for some reason. I was thinking of these other things--these other entanglements--these other men--when I started writing HOTTER this past summer. I kept joking that it was an exorcism, so much bad stuff and bad karma that needed to be wiped out and brought into the light. So many things I wanted to finish writing about and be done. Even Taylor Swift is probably tired of making art from pain and it shows in her newer albums. 

But then are we ever finished? As writers? As women?  I saw a reel on Instagram lately about the humor of women in totally healthy relationships loving songs about bad ones (in this case, Miley Cyrus's "Flowers"). A comment brought the comments thread to a full stop for a second about women and their tendency to be able to sympathize with even fictional relationships and sadnesses and heartbreaks. Even about entirely made up and fictionalized situations or ones made up in our heads.  Or even the possibility of heartbreak that may come at a future date.  I think about Taylor Swift and how much pleasure everyone, but particularly women, in sound relationships or not take in her songs drawn from autobiography (and even the ones not. which are sometimes my favorite--I'm thinking "No Body, No Crime" here or "Ivy."  Someone else said this is why women like love songs and romance novels, and I think they are on the money. I rather like to trot out my ghosts, stand them up and dust them off every once in a while even though I have been happily partnered for years.

At the same time, I feel weird about the fact that some (though not all, mostly the worst) of the men who show up in the poems take up even a slight bit of real estate in my mind. Or worse that they would know this. I imagine some might, but most will never know. Still it's strange and slightly cringe to me for some reason.  Even in their Frankenstein bits and parts and odd scraps of story.  Even if they are unrecognizable to anyone but me and them. More than likely, though I have made like ART out of them they probably don't even think about me very often at all and certainly aren't turning me into poems (very few of them being creatives at all.). Which seems strange and unbalanced and kind of sad on my end, no?  But then again, it's just a scrap, a fragment, like a piece of mental ephemera. Like a ticket stub to a movie you liked for a while or a newspaper clipping ragged at the edges that falls out of a book every once in a while. 

But what else to build from? This the "ex-orcism" part, the purging, the getting things out.  But it's also a book about me, and the versions of myself that were cast off just as much as a lover in certain kinds of relationships and entanglements. The past lives and past detritus can be sloughed off to make room for new things, which I felt was important as last summer ended in a year that already had brought so much change, and would eventually bring far sadder changes but also happy new possibilities. All of it seemed to call for something,. and since it's a little bit of anti-Valentine in many ways, I thought it might be perfect to drop this month, this day over all others. 

You can read it here (unless we ever slept together, then you might not want to.lol..)

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