Love is nothing like they say

I turned in the copyedited manuscript of Friendship on October 7th and since then I haven’t written or thought about writing anything besides tweets and emails. Which, to be fair, I have written MANY tweets and emails. But it is a huge brain shift away from thinking about the problems and characters in my book. I already feel like the book is no longer a part of me; it has its own life and I feel like I would potentially respond to any questions about it by saying “God, who knows??” When the time comes to answer questions about it I’ll probably have developed some fun and interesting theories, but I can already tell it will be a lot like discussing a book someone else wrote. Which feels, right now, like what happened. I’m having an excruciatingly hard time even writing this blog post. I feel like I’ve lost the ability to organize experiences into thoughts and words into sentences, probably permanently. Having experienced this feeling and its remission before isn’t comforting because what if this time it really is permanent? That happens! People quit, or just start sucking. That could be what’s happening to me right now. It’s probably not, but it could be. So all my relief and happiness is tempered by fear.

Other than that fear and the constant feeling of loss of an essential part of the self, life turns out to be so much easier when you’ve turned off the part of your brain that does writing! I have a job now where I work during the weeks and for the first couple of months of it I was in the library each weekend working on the book, but now my weekends are weekends. I experienced the feeling of “TGIF” for the first time in years on 10/11 and I probably don’t have to tell you that TGIF is A GREAT FEELING. I’ve had so much time these past few weeks to hang out and have fun and organize and clean and budget and transfer balances from one credit card to another and make obsessive plans for the future. Does that not sound fun? It has been GREAT. One of the things about working on a book, at least for me — and probably it doesn’t have to be this way! — is that you spend a lot of time in “finals week mode.” Like, years on end. Neglecting your body, your friendships, your family and your finances because nothing is more important than your book. Some of that damage will take years to undo (financial, mostly), but my skin already looks better. Not writing a novel is a beauty treatment. Not writing a novel is a spa vacation. Not writing a novel is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, except the nagging terror that this happiness is temporary and fake and could shade into misery the minute I try to start another one.

That first weekend of my novel-less life was also my birthday weekend, and for my birthday Keith got me a bike from Craigslist and a ring from Erie Basin; we’re getting married, finally. I spent the first day of being engaged so happy I couldn’t stop smiling and the second day, Monday, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I had eaten oysters at my birthday dinner but I don’t really think they were to blame. As anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows, my feelings about marriage are, as a politician might say, evolving. I was happy but terrified. I looked at Keith and felt the way Liz Phair succinctly describes feeling in “Love is Nothing”: “I thought, ‘Who am I?’ Who’s this guy?’”  As Liz sings, love is nothing like they say. It’s better and worse, and it’s not, I guess, describable. I didn’t feel ready to tell anyone that I was engaged. I told my parents because I knew it would become a weirder and weirder conversation the longer I waited to have it, but it was super awkward (I interrupted their dinner and they asked if I could call back before they knew what I was calling about!) and I told Ruth and Bennett and Lori, but the idea of sharing the news on social media felt completely wrong. And then that feeling itself also felt wrong; who am I, I thought, to feel this way? I thought, is this what it is to crave privacy? The idea of subjecting my happiness to the internet’s infinite potential scorn seemed borderline insane to me. I told myself and several close friends that I simply would not do it.

If you clicked the link in the previous paragraph you can see that I did, on October 30th. I took that photo sitting at a bus stop on Van Brunt Street. I was wearing a fancy outfit because I had thought I was going to see Nico Muhly’s opera that night, but early that morning Keith and I woke up and realized that it was time to take Raffles to the vet for the last time; we’d been waiting for about a week to see if he would make another miraculous recovery — he’d made dozens, in his long and high-maintenance little life — but he was in pain, we could tell, and not eating, and so thin that you almost felt you might be hurting him when you stroked his bony spine. We decided and then I lay in bed with Raffles resting his head on my head while I cried, and I felt like he knew and was saying goodbye, too (let me have this delusion.) I must have at some point gotten out of bed and put on clothes and put Raffles in his carrier and waited with Keith on the curb for Arecibo but it’s hard to remember any of that clearly now. I remember the feeling of Raff’s head on my head. He loved to put his head there, to sleep with at least a paw touching me at all times. This was sometimes very irritating but now I miss it; waking up alone is the worst part of Raffles being gone.

I went to work after we got home from the vet because I wanted to be distracted and I selfishly stuck Keith with the task of putting everything cat-related away before I got home. At work, everyone was very understanding, but I felt queasy and like I was on drugs, dehydrated from crying and slightly hysterically punchy. I had a call with Manjula Martin from Scratch (hi Manjula!) during which I think I acted sort of normal? At lunch I picked at a salad in the park with Ruth, who wisely told me to skip the opera, and then I got an email from Russell at Erie Basin saying my ring was done getting resized and I could pick it up, so I left work early and went to Red Hook.

I got the ring and then when I was waiting to go home on the bus I looked at the memorial photograph of Raffles I’d posted on Tumblr that morning to see how many likes it had. People were universally nice. No one had made fun of my grief.   A lot of people, who are familiar to me either from real life or the Internet, had left personal messages, including one person who said that Raffles was “one of my favorite cats of Tumblr,” which for some reason I found especially moving. I stared at the photo for a while. I’d just missed one bus and the next one was taking forever to come. And then I looked at my ring, so pretty with my dark nails and blue dress, and I took a photo of that and posted it on Instagram.  It felt like the exact right thing to do.

11 comments to Love is nothing like they say

  • This web site worked on my computer. Boring maybe, but I found it fun to build.

  • I have internet followed you for, I guess, years now. I even once sent you an effusive Facebook message which I should regret but I was being myself when I wrote it, so.

    I am truly sorry for your loss and wish you so well, which seems silly coming from a slightly younger stranger. I still struggle to defend having married, except that I wanted to adopt him as my family and be adopted as his, and it was a really happy thing to have done.

  • Sarah

    Hi Emily,

    This post gutted me. I got all weepy and tried to hug my 13 year old cat who wasn’t really feeling it.

    I’m so happy and sad and sad-happy for you. Feelings.


  • Congratulations on your engagement. Condolences on your loss. I married Ruth and lived happily together for 58 years. Today is the 3rd anniversary of her death. That pain never goes away.
    We also kept cats for many years and I still remember Nicky fondly.
    My earlier note was left before i read your post. sometimes I can’t read because my eyes don’t work so good anymore. I did see that Raffles was gone so I thought a little distraction might ease the pain.
    Nuncle Mack

  • I can imagine that finishing a book, getting engaged to your boyfriend, and losing your cat all in one month must have been incredibly overwhelming, and I can’t blame you at all for being hesitant to share your real-life goings-on with the internet at first. We’ve all been given massive amounts of undeserved shit on the internet a time or two, and I know you’ve taken way more shit than most of us have. Who wants to show up for another beating? At the same time, you’re way cooler than all of those jerks who were mean to you in the past, and you’ve been proving it for so long that a lot of us out here are totally in your corner and want to see you happy and successful. So yeah, thanks for taking the risk and sharing all the good and bad things in your life with us. I was so sorry to hear about Raffles. But I’m glad to hear about the engagement, and I definitely cannot wait to read the new book.

  • Rachael

    Since I saw your happy/sad news posts simultaneously a few weeks ago, I have been checking here occasionally to see when you would write about it – it seemed inevitable that you would, and I wanted to know how you were doing. Maybe part of the reluctance to tell social media your news was the significance of the news? I certainly felt that simply ‘liking’ your posts that signified these major life events was somewhat insufficient. Anyway, I am so sorry about Raffles, so happy for you on the engagement (Erie Basin!) and also feel your conflict about marriage. I hope you never stop telling the internet how you feel. xo

  • Hal Jay Greene

    Ha, this post so weirdly parallels things that are going on in my own life, I had a minor out-of-body experience reading it (when did I write this? Why do I call myself “Emily”?)

    I ALSO recently got engaged and I ALSO recently lost a long-time kitty friend (the f*cking vet made me WAIT while she did it because she insisted I had to sign some damn form!) and I ALSO recently put down my novel for an indefinite period, but this time it’s because I (finally!) delivered it to my new editor and there’s nothing for me to do until he’s ready to patiently explain to me all the ways it sucks.

    The thing about trying to make a living by doing something “creative” is that there really is never any “down time.” There’s simply the time when you’re actually working on your project and the time when you SHOULD be working on it (or starting a new one if somehow, by the grace of God, you’ve managed to finish one).

    Anyway…first world problems.

    Good luck with your marriage (it will be great) and all the rest of it. Don’t stop writing!

  • Hal Jay Greene

    Ugh, do people post updates to comments? My statement that I was “waiting for my new editor to read the MS for my novel and patiently explain to me all the ways it sucks” turned out to be an understatement. Why did I ever think I could do this?

  • Hal Jay Greene

    Post post script: My editor is forcing me to go back to first principles. And it’s working. Now the controlling image for the opening scene is (drum roll please): A ratty lawn chair. On the moon. Yes! Writing is the best! I can DO this!

  • JOe

    I look forward to reading your new book and if i get married i will use that store you mentioned too. or something similar.

  • Oh my Gosh! Not sure what little insignificant things I have to say should come first, but: 1) So sorry about Raffles. Losing a pet makes me wild with grief; 2) Congratulations on your engagement! I hope you will be very happy; 3) Double congratulations on the novel! and I’m really looking forward to reading it! All best, MIKE L

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>