On Lessons, Lies and Lena Dunham

I am watching with great interest what I refer to as “Lena Dunham Debacle”.   I was a fan, sort of, of hers until recently. I watched-and enjoyed-Girls, and while I am much older than she, I could somewhat relate to the awkwardness and sadness of all she conveyed in the episodes I watched. (I admit I have not seen them all.) And for some time I followed her on Instagram and other social media outlets. But recently, and by recently I mean before her book came out and the shit storm began swirling, I lost interest in her. Her weirdness was no longer unique an authentic, it felt more like spin, like a persona she was trying on, and while at times I agreed with the message that she was trying to send, her methods were grating on my nerves.

This week she is caught up in the weirdness that she has created and cultivated into her brand. With her new ‘memoir’ hitting the stands she is not just a hero to those that sit a little left of center and the spokesperson for a generation that has no clear identity other than that they just are who they are and that should be good enough, she is now sitting smack in the middle of mainstream America. Perched at the number two spot on the NY Times Best Seller List, her book is being read by housewives and haters alike, by fans and followers, critics and cynics across the globe.

I use the term memoir loosely, since Dunham herself calls herself and ‘unreliable narrator’, and claims that she ‘adds an invented detail to every story she tells’, leaving us to wonder if her memoir should be filed under fiction or not. Regardless, she claims these are her tales to tell and her wisdom should be shared with the masses. And, I should add, while many of her reviews rave about her writing skills, her voice and her craft, just as many wonder what exactly she has learned at the ripe old age of 28, and if she has indeed learned anything, as they were unable to find it in the pages of her book.

The eye of the storm that she has brought upon herself is centered around the admissions that she, by most peoples standards, inappropriately touched her younger sister. That she masturbated while lying in bed next to her, and bribed her with candy for kisses. She even goes on to say that that “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”

The media, social and otherwise, the blogosphere, the tabloids and rags are all abuzz with this scandal, and Lena is perplexed and defensive, claiming it is out of context and completely within the realm of normal childhood curiosity. She seems utterly perplexed at what all the fuss is about, and in a odd rant accused the right wing newsies of fabricating the story.

Maybe in her house it was normal-who knows. But here is the thing about memoirs and personal essays, when you hit submit, or publish, post or print, you are opening the door to your house. You are inviting people in to your house, and introducing them to your family and anyone else you keep behind that door. You are sharing not just your secrets, you are sharing theirs, and in doing so you are bringing the storm down upon them as much as yourself.

It is not that I am not a fan of personal essays, I undoubtedly am. I find them cathartic and medicinal. A way of releasing memories and thoughts that so often hold me back, or keep me down. I find writing about something often guides me back to the path I should have been on, helps me find that thing I wasn’t even looking for. But when I write, I am mindful. I am aware that these are my memories, my recollections, and the mind has a way of altering things. The truths we hold in our hearts are often tainted with emotion, weathered with age, fragile and susceptible to embellishment. While I want to exorcise these things that fester in my head, release them so that I can move forward, I find there are things that I will publish, and things that I cannot. There are things that while they are helpful for me to write, would be hurtful for me to post.

I am fans of and friends with writers that disagree. Their raw honesty is amazing to me, but I cannot help but wonder what happens after.   After they publish, after they share, after their mother reads it, or after their children do. Everything we do, or say, or share and post has a ripple effect and we no longer have the opportunity to watch the waters calm into a glasslike film after a time-all evidence gone. Our words are indelible, etched into the Internet for years to come.   When my youngest son Google’s my name years from now, what do I want him to find? What do I want him to learn about me? I can choose (some of) that, I can control (some of) that, but do I have the right to expose my mother, my father, or siblings to the judgments of strangers and worse yet, my children and grandchildren? Is that fair?

Anne Lamott says “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better” and for the most part I agree. I have ex’s and enemies that deserve no love from me, no words of kindness, but what of those I love and that love me? Is it fair to write of their addictions, their shortcomings, their failures, even if it is part of my story? Do I have the right to open the door to their home, and bring out the skeletons in their closet?

Some days I wonder if this makes me less authentic as a writer or as a person, and I admit the balance can be hard. I recently wrote a piece and for the first time ever I let my husband read it before I posted it-it discussed part of our relationship so I felt like I should share it with him privately. Today, it is still sitting in my saved folder. He didn’t judge, and didn’t tell me not to, he just said very quietly, ‘That is so personal’. I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or not. I was proud of what I had written and it was personal-to me. But all of this is new to me and while I choose grow and heal by writing, I don’t want to destroy and damage at the same time.

I don’t want to filter, I want to own my truth, but with truth comes consequences and this is what I learned from Lena Dunham without ever having read her book. While Lena and her sister and their respective publicists will deny any wrong doing and claim the ‘out of context’ defense and dribble on about normal curiosity (despite the fact that a 28 year old woman just compared herself to a sexual predator), her story is out there and her consequences are just beginning. Just as quickly as she opened her door, she is closing it, telling us to stay out and not examine the skeletons she pulled out of the closet to parade for us, but it is too late. People are looking at her differently; they are discussing her parents, and questioning her upbringing. They are talking about patterns of abuse and signs of molestation. And we will never know the truth-what is going on behind that closed door. What damage has been done to the relationships in her life, with her mother and father, sister, friends or lovers? We will never know if that bit in her memoir was one of those she added fictional details to, or if she was being ironic and sarcastic, a sad attempt at her awkward humor, or if she did in fact molest her sister. We will never know if her sister really is ‘laughing so hard’ or if she will never speak to her again.

The only person that will know the whole truth to all of this is Lena, and it is doubtful anyone will believe a word she says anymore.

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The Love Triangle

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942. Public Domain

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942. Public Domain

Katherine flicks the ash off the end of her cigarette absently, her hand shaking ever so slightly. She keeps her eyes on the fellow behind the counter, he seems to be moving in slow motion, and she finds herself mesmerized. She is afraid if she glances over Kent’s shoulder, if she dares to look at the man seated on the corner, she will give herself away.

Outside of her thoughts she hears him thank the young man for the milkshake, a milkshake she neither wants, or needs. A scotch would do wonders right now, she muses. She turns slowly to him, making sure his broad shoulder blocks the view behind him.

“Thank you, love. This is heavenly! And the show, I had no idea Suzette Stanley could dance and sing! It just gave me chill bumps the whole time!”

She could tell she was rambling, and knew her voice sounded shrill in the quiet diner.

“I thought you might like that, I know how much you love her music,” he answers, coming in to nuzzle her neck.

They had danced to her music on their first date. Suzette Stanley’s sultry voice had filled her ears with words she longed to hear and when he put his hand on the small of her back and led her to the floor, it made her all at once feel dizzy and warm. He turned her gracefully into his body, and then they were floating across the scuffed parquet and it was undeniable to her, him, and to anyone else in the room, that she would be his.

“Yes, I still do,” she answers softly, not sure of what she means. Still love the music, or him?

She returns his kiss softly on the cheek, demurely turning away her eyes and her body.

Kent does not give up so easily though. He leans to her, brushing her face with the back of his hand, holding her chin softly and gazing at her with intensity.

Uncomfortable with the moment she brings the milkshake to her lips and wraps the straw in a sly smile.

“You know how much I love you,” he begins, but is cut off by the jarring sound of a chair scraping the floor from across the room.

He turns to look at the man down the bar that he had not noticed before.

Katherine jolts upright. With Kent turned and David standing she can see them both and she feels her heart split right in two. Her love for one and lust for another is undeniable in this small space.

David looks right at her, almost right through her, through her dress, her lingerie and into her heart.

She is struck by the intensity.

Kent turns back to her ready to continue his sentence but she is different. “Are you alright dear, you are positively white,” he asks her.

She blinks and looks for an answer, some time, a distraction to walk through the door but it is 3 a.m. and it is unlikely she will be given that grace. The man behind the counter is blushing and trying to busy himself having caught on long ago to the scene unfolding before him.

David saunters to the cigarette machine in the corner and begins to feed it quarters desperately. He grabs the handle under the Camel’s and pulls to no avail. His anger spills over and he bangs the machine, even kicks it once, blaming it perhaps for the fact that it is not his hand on Katherine’s check tonight.

Kent looks over and calls out “What’s the problem there, fella?”

And the whole room freezes for a moment.

David’s eyes are glued to Katherine, and hers back at him. Daring him, begging him, speaking to him without a single word.

The man behind counter stops mid-wipe of the table in front of him, afraid to breathe, afraid to look one way or the other. He has had fights in here before, but is in no mood tonight. It’s too late, or too early and he is just too damn tired.

Kent speaks again. “Well, what is it pal? You need a smoke? A quarter?”

David is still for a moment. A wicked smirk comes to play across his face. He is teetering on the edge, calculating the options and outcomes. He is suddenly unsure that if he falls on the blade for her, that she will be his reward. If he drops this bomb, will what they have blow to pieces too?

He looks at her for one second more, looks at the tear forming in her eye, her lower lip beginning to quiver. He wants her more in this instant than he ever thought he could, but he can hear now what she isn’t saying.

“Nah man, just a bad day,” he mumbles and pretends to chuckle. “Lost my smokes and my girl, don’t that just beat all?” He laughs again.

The counter man finishes the arching movement he was frozen in, wiping away more than just the crumbs, it seems as if he is clearing the air, the moment.

Katherine looks down and exhales. She wills the tear to disappear and gathers her composure. Her hand nervously reaches out to Kent, rests solidly on his forearm.

Kent is looks at David quizzically, still trying to figure him out.

And then just like that, it is over. The air is cut by the sound of David’s footsteps crossing the tile. When he opens the door to leave a whoosh of cold winds its way up Katherine’s dress, sending a chill up her spine. As he exits, he turns and faces them both.

“Sorry for any trouble. You lovebirds have a great night,” he says to them.

And then the door closes softly, almost silently.

Kent turns to her and searches her for any comprehension of what just happened, but before he can stare too long she folds herself into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and turning her head to rest on his chest. Softly she starts to hum one of the songs, their song, the first one they danced to.

“Let’s go home,” she whispers, her voice full of longing and need.

Certain that both are for him, he leads her out of the diner and into the stillness of the night.

In response to the Daily Post Weekly Challenge, and my need to write some fiction…

 

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Give and Take/Writing101Day7

The lie lay between them like a corpse. It was solid and cold and immovable. It was the unspeakable thing in the room and it was slowly stealing all of the air from her lungs. If she didn’t speak soon, she would not be able to.

“I don’t know, I just can’t believe….” She trailed off, her eyes wandered around the room looking anywhere but at him, she was pacing, running her fingers through her hair, she seemed frantic.

He sighed. “It was a thing, I don’t even remember it. It was nothing. I said I was sorry.” He sounded exasperated and tired. Tired of saying nothing or saying the same thing over and over.

“I found the keys. I guess I should have known. I mean, they weren’t mine. You gave her keys…” She said it so fast, like she was spitting the words out. She started to shake her head but it hurt so badly. She could feel a migraine building behind her temples- feel the vague pulsing turning into a vice-like pounding.

“She never used them. She was never here. I mean, not really. Not alone, like, like you. She wasn’t staying here too. She just met me here…so she had a key. In case she was early, I guess. Or in case I was late so you know, she wouldn’t have to wait.” He fiddled with his hands, rubbed them on his knees. He was anxious to leave. Ready to be free or forgiven. His speech was slow and lazy. “It was no big deal, I swear.”

“But she was here. She was here in our home. She was in our bed and showered in our bathroom. And she was here, “ she pointed around the room focusing on the sofa, her voice rising in pitch, words tumbling over one another,  “when I came in. She was here, passed out with candles and wine, half naked. She was waiting for you, or, or had you already been here? Did you leave her here??” Her eyes widened when she asked the last question, the last words were shrill, she was almost shouting. She knew. She had not walked in before, but after.

She quickly swallowed, trying not to throw up.

He kept his gaze downward. He knew there was no point in denying. There never was, she had him dead to rights-again. Now it was just the waiting. The crying, the curiosity, the questions, and then she would silently give up. She would stay. She would look around and refuse to give up on this little story she had created for them-the house, the happy ending.

“I’m sorry, “ he added quietly, his tone deep and husky. It was another lie that would swirl around the room, aimless and empty. He wasn’t really. If he was, he would not have done it, would not do it again. But he couldn’t even promise that.

He finally looked at her. It was odd, he noticed, she was not even crying this time. Her eyes were not wet with tears, they were not pleading with him. They were empty of everything.

“Well, okay then, “ she whispered just loud enough for him to hear. She stood and he thought she was going to walk to him, curl up in his lap and weep. Start to kiss him and undress him, start to touch him and fuck him as though she could both punish him and make him hers in one painfully beautiful moment. He knew her, and maybe that is why he kept doing it; for the aftermath, the punishment.  He loved her more when she was raw and broken, when she was fighting him and demanding him, when she needed him and was desperate for him. He felt his body start to stir.

But then she didn’t. She rose silently, like a cat on the prowl and padded over to him. She leaned down gently, but did not sit, did not cry. She looked at him with pity this time and placed a simple kiss on his cheek. She laid her key on the cushion beside him and turned away. Without another word, without taking a single thing with her, she slipped quietly out the door.

“Wait.” he started, but he could barely hear himself, and there was no point, she would not hear him either.

She was already gone.

 http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-seven/

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Love Letter

The paper was worn and fragile and still a bit damp from the spin cycle when I touched it.  I took my time unfolding it-was it something I needed? Forgot in my pocket?

            ‘My love, this news has shattered me, broken me. I don’t know how to process it… I just don’t know if things will be the same. If I will be the same after this…I just don’t know.’

The handwriting was odd and unfamiliar.  This was not my letter.  It was not in my laundry. 

My eyes darted to the dryers, searching for a man, which man I don’t know.  The broken one?  I searched and found no one.  I walked to the plate glass windows and placed my hand on the cool surface to steady myself.  Three cars.  Is he behind door number 1?  I thought to myself foolishly, but they were empty. My heart was pounding, breaking for him and I knew that I would sit here next week, and the weeks after that waiting for him.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-five/

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Ah, my darling

He kissed my forehead, wiped my tears. I tried to catch my breath, tried to steady my heartbeat, tried to stop the noise.

‘I’m sorry…I’m sorry I’m a mess’, I said over and over.

We’ve been here before, haven’t we…

‘Ah my darling, you’re not a mess, you’re perfect to me.’

http://first50.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/ah-my-darling/

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Red Geraniums

My grandmother’s house smelled of dust and cedar.  Of Nina Ricci perfume with hints of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Bain de Soleil.  I still smell it.  I still see her salty grey hair, her curls gone wild, her lips never without lipstick, always the color of her beloved red geraniums.

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photo by Lewis Collard http://www.lewiscollard.com

 

 

http://first50.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/red-geranium/

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Stardust

I hope that when he goes it is peaceful. That death will take his hand ever so gently and lead him out into the night. I hope it feels like your first kiss, all butterflies and stardust. I hope he leaves a trail of glitter across the sky to say goodbye.

 

Written for :

http://first50.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/stardust/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/fifty/

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3 Dogs

Those 3 dogs follow me-Depression, Fear and Anxiety. They lay in wait and watch me still, even after I swallow that bitter pill. Those 3 dogs they have to go, have to hear me tell them no! Those 3 dogs wait and see, they won’t get the best of me.

Thanks to The First 50 Words for her daily prompts, I’m loving them. http://first50.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/3-dogs/

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Rain

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it is raining and i am missing you

i can hear the drops echo on the windowsill

they sound hollow and empty

the same way i feel

you should be here with me 

to hear me sigh 

to watch the rain race down the window

to fill the empty spaces 

that are left here without you

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She Never Wanted To Be Happy

I opened THE BOX.  The one in my garage with notebooks and journals.  The one that holds secrets (and lies), poems and stories and miscellaneous bits of my life before I stopped writing.

I opened the box.

And just like in Greek mythology, my storage bin, or rather Pandora’s box,  had far more to show me and tell me than I had imagined. And not all of it was good.

I’ll admit, I have not read through all of it.  And some of it, I am not even sure I wrote. I know I collected quotes the way that some people collect stamps or butterflies or buttons. The way that someone else could articulate what I was feeling was such a comfort. But what I have read was not all beauty and magic.  There were dark and tragic poems, verses so full of pain that it scared me more than a little bit. Was I THAT depressed? And WHY? What could have been so bad? I keep trying to put my finger on one thing, and I can’t.  Reading the bits that I had made me think more about the person I am now, and that I have been in my adult life-the anxiety and moods that I have carried with me all these years. Clearly they were present then, but why? Where did it start? And should I even keep looking, trying to figure it all out, or should I just let it go, and be grateful I have learned from it and know myself so much better than even a year ago?

This weekend my boys and I pulled out a bin of photos at my mothers house and started reminiscing about my childhood.  We laughed at all of the awkward stages I went through in the class pictures (and not just me-my sister and brother had some doozies too).  I kept looking for a clue, trying to see a crack in my smile that told me-THERE! That is the year it started.  But I saw nothing. I saw glasses and braces and really bad fashion, but I didn’t see darkness or depression.  I saw laughter and smiles and fabulous memories with my family and all the fun we had.

And then my mother pulled out one of the last pictures we have of my grandmother and her comment struck me so hard, I am still turning it over now.

“There is my poor mother. She just never wanted to be happy.”

In the picture, she is not smiling. Her face is set, as it always was late in life. But I saw pictures of her as a young mom-smiling and happy. Her face was lit from within when she was holding my mother. And the things she wrote in my moms baby book beam with pride and joy. The clipping in the paper announcing my mothers first birthday was full of love and happiness.

The memories I have of my grandmother were not bitter or awful. I remember a grandmother that made amazing ice cream sundaes for dessert. Vanilla bean ice cream, maraschino cherries, Hershey’s syrup from a can, whipped cream.  I remember staying up all hours to finish a game of Rummy 500. I still crave her macaroni and cheese that she made with roasted chicken-my favorite meal made on demand. I remember spending summer days at the beach with her. I remember birthday lunches at Chan’s palace and trips to Old McDonald’s farm. I remember her always having a trinket or book for us from her shopping at the thrift shop. I remember five dollar bills folded precisely, tucked into large green plastic Easter eggs with fake grass. Who let us dress up in her little nightgowns and day glow shoes and plastic beads.  I remember happy.

But I look at this picture and I do see what my mother sees. She is not happy here.But why?

I have to believe she wanted to be happy.  No one really sets out to be unhappy, do they? I don’t think that is  fair. I do believe that for some people it is not a natural, organic state of being.  For some people, perhaps myself included, it is not the baseline normal-we fall below the mark, a bit left of center. For some people being happy sometimes feels like fighting your way out of a wet paper bag-it should be so easy, but sometimes it’s a big mess, and I get that.

My grandmother lived in the 60s when you didn’t talk about being happy or unhappy, and you certainly didn’t go to the doctor for antidepressants and medications were not handed out like Skittles as they are today.  Then, you suffered in silence. You were the doting wife, the good mother-your role models were June Cleaver and Ozzie and Harriet for Pete’s sake.  How do you shake a fist and say “I’m not happy!” when that is the ideal?

I don’t remember my grandmother having a host of friends or parties or anything like that.  No sisterhood, or tribe, ya-ya’s or girlfriends to confide in, cry with, share a story or a glass of wine.  She did not work out of the house, or volunteer, or have a hobby that I can recall either. I look at her and I see loneliness and sadness. I have been so very fortunate to have all of those things, and even with them, some days and times in my life  have still seemed so very hard.  I cannot imagine being alone with them.

My grandfather worked full time, and the other women in his life were his boat, Long Island Sound, and his fishing rod.  My grandmother was often alone for dinners-even for whole weekends, as he went out on the water or spent the day out at the boat club tinkering and puttering. He got up early and went for breakfast and coffee at the donut shop and sat for hours talking to other diners, but again, she stayed home.  And, while I loved him dearly and still do, he was a two (or three) martini man.  Having a spouse that drinks with a young child in the house fills the air with hostility and resentment, keeps you on edge, and fills you with bitterness. Watching him fall asleep in his chair, cigarette burning to the filter while the news blared on, must have been infuriating and depressing all at once. I spent years with an alcoholic, and I know how it builds up.  Add a child to the equation and…

I don’t believe my grandmother ‘didn’t want to be happy’. I think she wanted what we all want-the happy ending, the fairy tale. And as her daughter grew up and moved on with her own family, my grandmother was alone with a man that had his own life, and now she had none. I don’t think things turned out the way she thought they would and it made her sad, and bitter and angry.

I miss her, and I wish she were here now. I’d love to talk to her about it all. I have often wondered if the dark parts of me-the moods and anxiety and depression, have a lineage that I never knew, and I suspect that they do. I wish I could tell her she had a choice, she always had a choice-to try something new, to leave her husband, to change and grow, to take medication, to get a job. To shake her fists and yell ‘I am not happy! To Hell with Harriet and June!’  I wish we could sit on the beach and eat dry tuna salad sandwiches and black olives off our fingers, and that I could tell her to just be happy.  To listen to the sound of the ocean and the waves and the seagulls and let it all go.

It works for me.

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