Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love, Large & Small

I fall in love daily. I develop huge, swelling crushes and infatuations. I imagine secret rendezvous without uttering a single word: with books, with interesting people, with fonts. Lately, I love Georgia font. I play around with fonts. I try to trick myself. I’ll be puttering along, writing my stupid novel in Times New Roman when suddenly, a simple change in font (Georgia!), and my novel is no longer stupid, but elegant, lean, beautiful.

I love women, too: elegant, lean, beautiful women. My wife, Karen, is all three. She’s also multi-lingual, freckled, prone to yawns, and exceedingly in thrall of lotions. All types of lotions: hand lotion, foot lotion, face lotion, and, of course, massage lotion.

I love this picture of my wife. That's a wedding invitation in her lap.
And that's New York City zooming by in the window.

I am NOT in love with massages. I don’t love giving massages. I hardly love receiving them. This is one thing my wife hates about me. Just as it’s important to love, I think it’s important to hate. I must admit, I love much more than I hate, but Dick Cheney is just awful.

I love small things. I especially love wearing short swimsuits. Have you seen Before Night Falls with Javier Bardem? In one glorious scene he wears a skimpy suit on a cliff overlooking the sea. The movie is unbearably sad, of course; in some ways it seems to say that illness (AIDS) equals the loss of a small bathing suit. But in other, important ways, it seems to say that a short swimsuit is worthless without a tragic sense of life.

(I’m wearing a short swimsuit now.)

I love small glasses. I drink wine out of very small glasses. Small glasses remind me of Sunday lunch in Barcelona, of small plates of tortilla, of skimpy swimsuits dangling on the balcony, implying naked people somewhere. I remember one Sunday, stepping into the doorway of the Bar El Paso. A man was playing a slot machine, drinking a small glass of wine.

Bon vespre, I said to the man.

Em sembla bé, the man said

He was mean-looking; his face scratched, perhaps by a fierce animal. He looked at me, made a slight expression. I looked at him and smiled. I turned away, looked at the tapas on the bar, the retinue of six or eight small white plates, small bites of fried seafood, slices of baguette coated with smoked salmon, anchovies or cheese, all of it sodden under the harsh, yellow lights. I looked at the linoleum floor littered with cigarette butts and dirty napkins, the empty bar stools scattered about. Then I looked back at the man. He sneered.

We’re just like the small goldfish at carnivals, I thought, living in our separate fishbowls, at a close distance, staring at each other through the glass with unblinking eyes, asking, Who the hell are you?

Barcelona reminds me of the time in my life before I'd even considered illness. I was twenty-three.

I was twenty-five when I first experienced illness. Illness, of course, is large and scary, but I think it can be defeated with daily smallnesses: drinking a cup of water with an entire lemon squeezed into it; smiling, two, three times an hour; probiotics.

Illness makes some people tiny. I feel lucky: illness makes me large. Sometimes I think illness is like pot, maybe it just amplifies what’s already there. I was large before illness, but in untenable ways: my anger was large, for example.

I remember the summer after I had been diagnosed with my first illness, ulcerative colitis. I had refused the drugs, but had yet to discover my remedies: Ayurvedic pills from India, stellar probiotics, and an obstinate refusal of wheat and cow’s milk dairy.

Anyway, I suffered that summer (and well into the fall and winter): all the awful symptoms you wouldn’t ever want to read about on-line. But I was also reading new books. James Hillman, Robert Bly. And I was seeing a mind-body therapist named Rosemary. So one morning, mid-July, a broiling morning, I woke up feeling hopeless and grrr, angry.

Why me? I wondered. Why the fuck me? Why the fuck did I get this fucking disease? Me. Me. Me.

At the time I was living with my father. I stepped out onto the deck, wearing nothing but my short swimsuit. I looked into the woods that surrounded the house. Fuck you, woods, I said. Then I grabbed a golf club and dashed into the woods, slashing at brambles and weeds. Slashing and cursing, I thought of my childhood, running through the cornfields of Lancaster, slapping the tall, green stalks. I thought of Clash of the Titans, Harry Hamlin, one of my first role models. I was crying, or maybe not crying, just trying to cry, which seemed to me infinitely pathetic. At some point, though, I suppose something happened, something stronger than anger, because I started laughing.

I stopped, looked around, asked myself: What the hell am I doing? And I laughed.

Now my anger is small. Now when I drop a small glass on the floor, I have to fake a conniption. That’s how small my anger is. (Thanks for that, ulcerative colitis.)

I love the New Yorker. I love opening its fresh pages and reading the movie reviews. Then I go to an article or two; then “Talk of the Town”; then, another article or two. Eventually, I read every single word. This takes about a week. If it works out just right, I’ll finish one issue on the exact day the next issue arrives.

I love arrival, but it’s often too large for me, too fraught with exclamation: We’re here! What I really love is the small steps on the way, the fits and starts.


  1. wonderful, as always. Thanks for sharing Seth.

    ... there is no such thing as an excessive love of lotions. Someday (perhaps while wearing something silky of Karen's), you will experience enlightenment, and then you will understand the gravitational pull of lotion.

  2. Jesus doesn't love you, but he thinks you have a nice personality.

  3. This is excellent. The kind of write/read that seems to just flow out, from one connected thing to the next. And a little bit more of your biograph.

  4. You were able to mention one of my most favorite things (Clash of the Titans) and most hated things (New Yorker) in the same story.


  5. What size is your love for me? :)

    My love for you is the size of a canteloupe, or maybe a bag of local Fuji apples.

  6. i am picturing all of this ... well spoke, seth

  7. As a post-postmodernist, I have a love-hate relationship with Helvetica; it would almost always make my web projects look clean, worthy, and smart, even when my content was crap. I envied its ability to improve what I worked so hard at just by showing up. Someone even made a very good documentary about this great, exasperatingly peaceful font.

  8. I feel an unbearable amount of stress as a result of trying to keep up with my magazine subscriptions, attempting to finish one completely before the next one arrives. I can't handle it. I get three monthlies which I can bearly keep up with. Then there's the 100+ page quarterlies, and the September McSweeny's was 265 pages long! I'm in way over myhead.

  9. Pyle,

    I couldn't do more than one subscription at a time. But I still understand that unbearable pressure to read everything (it motivates and destroys me every day: so much to read; so little time). I wish I could just lead a sort of lifestyle that would enable me to do nothing but read all day.