signal and information

You've heard this before.

I was never very good to her. She was convinced that what we had was some rare and beautiful thing, when really it was something more like the fact that I was there. I don't think I was her first, but she didn't like talking about that much. I do know that she loved me, and she hadn't loved anyone else before. I guess familiarity brings contempt.

She always said she liked me because I was honest, which mostly meant that I'd tell her when she'd fucked up. And I was steady--she liked saying that I was solid, and that she felt intangible. So I guess I gave her some tangibility. The point to take away from this is that neither of these things make for the good basis of a relationship. I often felt like she was intentionally doing this shit to annoy me, because she seemed to derive pleasure from the times I told her that she was being insane. This led to something of a vicious cycle: me being annoyed, her acting even worse.

It's hard to write this without sounding a little contemptuous. I think we both fucked up. Later, we both got over it. But I'm not trying to say that I was innocent. I was fucking awful to her. And at some point I think she was just trying to get me to do something, anything, remotely sympathetic. Instead I told her that I found her incredibly tiresome, that I was sick of her bullshit, that she was needy and--well, you get the idea. I think I assumed that this wouldn't be the thing that would make her snap. Because as horrible as it was I still liked having her around.

I guess I was wrong. She took a story I'd given her in private--"I've never shared this with anyone"--and published it. I didn't really care about the story, but I knew she was trying to hurt me, and that itself was enough to make me feel bad--but then I realized I'd fucked up. I tried to make things right. And at first I thought maybe she was receptive. Maybe this would be good. Then she fucking vanished.

I saw her again, some years later. It was an incredibly weird experience and I can't pretend I hadn't thought of her often in the years between. But she left just as suddenly as she came, as suddenly as she disappeared before. I try not to worry about it too much, but I wish I'd done things right. I wish she understood that I'm really trying now.


costume parties

This is different.

Sometimes, her sarcasm worries her, but not often. It surrounds her like armor, and with it she has grown bold enough to challenge the world--though she wonders, if everything is a quip and nothing is serious, if any of the friendships she makes are genuine. So sometimes she drinks too much at parties, and her barbs get sharper, and she kisses a boy who is not interested in her just to see what he'll do, and by the time she gets home she hates herself for it, then laughs when she realizes there is no one she can tell.

He is not interested because his boyfriend is also at the party, and his boyfriend is already making fun of his "new drunk girlfriend." He laughs alongside, of course, but somehow he feels the jokes are mean-spirited, because even if she was drunk and abrasive she wasn't a bad person. No one deserves to be laughed at. Eventually, later in the evening, when his boyfriend asks "Are you going to call her tomorrow?" he says, in a voice much more curt than he intended, "Maybe I will," and then spends the rest of the night wondering why he did that.

The party's hostess is very good at throwing parties, but, she has realized tonight, she is starting to hate it. No, she isn't starting--she has always hated it. She does it out of a sense of obligation, which she hates, and to please her friends, whom she doesn't particularly like. But even as she is thinking this she finds herself putting on a smile, engaging in these pointless conversations, and wishing she had an excuse to kick these people out.

She doesn't consider her roommate a host for these parties, but everyone loves him anyway. He tells interesting stories, laughs at everyone's jokes, and doesn't have an unkind word for anyone. But he is afraid of real, intimate connections, so he keeps everyone at a distance, because from a distance everyone thinks he's great. And so long as everyone is happy, what does it matter? But then sometimes someone else's facade cracks, just a little, and he worries that maybe he's lying to himself, too.


devil's advocate

Always aiming to please.

Yeah, we used to fight every single fucking day. This was back when I was still running the magazine, and it was never to his satisfaction--and mind you, it wasn't his magazine. He read it because it was something that I did, and I think he delighted in telling me that what I did was insufficient. Sometimes there weren't enough stories, or maybe there were too many. They were all too similar. There was no coherent theme in this issue. I wrote too much in the way of editorial comment. I needed a stronger editorial voice. One time he said to me something like "I feel like this isn't a magazine anymore so much as it's just a few of your friends writing for you. Don't you ever publish new talent?" For the very next issue I published some new authors (I told myself not because he told me to, but I'm not fooling anyone with that bullshit) and he complained that those stories were terrible.

And for some reason I still talked to him about the magazine. I'd tell him what I was planning to do. I remember telling him about an idea for a theme issue--I wanted spring stories for spring--and he asked me why I thought this was interesting enough to bother with. That was always his complaint: what I was doing wasn't new, or interesting. In his eyes I was completely failing to distinguish myself. He was constantly degrading the thing that I poured all of my energy and being into. And every night I had to defend it.

Nothing worked, though: I pointed out that we were doing well and he said some bullshit about how many popular things fail to distinguish themselves. I described what I felt was unique about our stories and our publication and he merely denied that these qualities were in any way interesting. I realized I'd hit a new low when I actually staged a little experiment where I picked stories from some other lit mags, and the stories I was planning to print in the next issue, and had some friends blindly guess which ones were mine. I came to him proudly bearing the results, that my friends could reliably guess which stories were mine, and he just told me that it was probably a sampling bias.

None of this could deter me, but I felt drained. Or, more precisely, I felt attacked. I was losing my will to fight. So I stopped. Winter had finally come and the seasonal melancholy set in and he was telling me some bullshit or other--something about how directionless the magazine seemed--and I finally said: "You know what? You're right. It's a useless fucking lit mag that nobody reads. It's got no direction because nobody cares about it. You win. I'm done."

He seemed taken aback by this. "Jesus, what's gotten into you?"

"Every fucking day you have another complaint. I'm done fighting. If it will shut you up I'll stop publishing the damn thing."

"I never asked you to shut up. I think it's great what you're doing."

"That is bullshit and you know it. You are constantly belittling me and the magazine."

"Look, I just want you to strive to improve. I think that's important for everyone. I thought you understood that. And I love seeing how passionate you get about it. It's beautiful. Don't ever lose that passion."

I wish I could say I'd said something witty, or slapped him, or even stormed off theatrically. But I just felt defeated--it should have been something momentous. Instead all I learned is that nothing is as easy as you hope it will be.