Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Wife Does Certain Annoying Things

My wife does certain things, certain annoying things. I’m sure this is not uncommon. Many wives, I hear, do certain annoying things. I’m sure, too, that husbands do certain annoying things. What things? I’m not sure. The things I am sure about are wife-specific.

I’ve lived with my wife six years. We’ve been married almost five years. Marriage has not changed us entirely; I think it merely accentuated what was already there. Our arguments now seem more berserk and unpredictable; our tender moments, more simple and soothing.

I have noticed, though, that my wife is evolving in her quirkiness. What was once a set of charming little idiosyncrasies have now become a cluster of odd symptoms. Clearly, she has a disease. Maybe the disease is marriage. Or, more likely, the disease is marriage to Seth.

People ask my wife: How do you deal with this?

This, being me.

People, though, don’t see the entire picture. In public, I’m bombastic and rude; my wife is composed and elegant. At home, I see another side. I see my wife confront a centipede with a horror-movie shriek. I see my wife’s appalled and unforgiving expression just after I’ve woken her from nap.

I adore my wife. I adore her in public, and private. For better or worse, she has determined the man I am today: the foolish, but sincere husband; the aloof, but giving friend; the hard-working, fun-loving writer. My wife gives good things: affection, support. She also takes away bad things: fear, doubt. These things are large. I understand and cherish these things.

My wife also gives and takes small things—small, ant-like things. The sum of this give and take, though, mystifies me. Like ants, it also annoys me. It’s the essential cloying mystery, in fact, of my day to day life: the small things my wife gives and the small things she takes away.

Put another way, we live in an apartment in Ambler. Many new, useless things appear in this place and many useful things disappear.

My wife, I suspect, has something to do with this.

The Small Things My Wife Gives

I sometimes wonder if my wife has a side-business, a side-business in small, black, rubber-band-like things. These things, I’m told, are hair-ties. I rarely ever see them in my wife’s hair. I do see them, though, lonely and unattached to my wife’s head, sporting strands of honey-brown hair. These things just appear, everywhere, often in odd places: my jean pockets, for example; or, tortuously, in the garbage disposal; or in my desk drawer, wrapped around a stack of defunct credit cards, expired licenses, and old high-school IDs. I also find them on the living room floor, under the car seat, or, sometimes, in the corner of the shower, wet and tangled.

Fabric softener sheets are meant to be used in the dryer, right? Why, then, do I continue to discover one random, used fabric softener sheet under the passenger car-seat? I take one sheet away, sure enough one more shows up. Laundry never enters the car. Why, then, do I continue to discover one random fabric softener sheet under the car seat?

(Incidentally, how many different bottles of lotion does one bathroom really need? How does one acquire all these lotions? Are they gifts? Is there some sort of lotion fairy? )

There’s a sole apple sitting in my fruit bowl. It’s been there for about a week. I look at it. I think about my wife. I think about her adorable sense of ambition. When we first dated, nearly thirteen years ago, she told me she’d be a lawyer. I told her I’d be a writer. She’s managed to accomplish her ambition, even as she advocates mine. This is a large thing. The apple is small. Still, it’s there, sitting in the fruit bowl, this $2 organic Fuji apple. Will someone eat this apple? I doubt it.

How does this happen?

I see my wife, at Whole Foods, excited by her sudden resolve: I will eat more fruit!

She buys an apple. She comes home, places the apple in the fruit bowl. Then it sits there, like a sock in a corner, subtly annoying me each time I pass. Soon, it’s too soft to eat. And yet, no one seems willing to throw it out. It’d be like tossing $2 into the trash.

It is a useless thing, this apple; it just suddenly appeared one day. It reminds me of a hair-tie, a misguided fabric-softener sheet, a bottle of foot (foot?!) lotion. It also reminds me of a newspaper and its half-finished crossword, jammed into the sofa. It reminds me of a cool cup of Starbucks coffee, merely sipped, abandoned in the car’s cup-holder.

The Small Things My Wife Takes Away

My wife and I share a chaotic social life. Friends and family come over three, four, five nights a week. There’s wine, laughter, and arguments. People come and go. In the chaos, things go missing: wine bottles, wine glasses, random dishes. I look at this as a sort of friendship tax: enough people come over, glasses, even plates and bowls, are bound to be broken or lost. This is simply what happens.

The other night I walked into my wife’s garden. The garden is my wife’s secret spot. She’s growing gorgeous cucumbers, Swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelons, eggplants, peppers, and a bounty of herbs. The garden, though, seems incidental. It’s the secret she loves. In the garden, she calls Barb and Lis and Traci and Vitola. In the garden, I suspect, she smokes cigarettes and drinks wine.

Anyway, I walked into her secret spot the other night, and I was shocked, even scared, when I discovered a scattered assortment of mugs and dishes. It felt similar to the moment when, as a child, I came upon my father’s secret stash: I was excited and frightened and entirely confused.

I had been looking for those mugs! I had been asking about those dishes! I picked up one of the mugs; it was, weirdly, covered in plastic wrap. I opened the plastic and sniffed. It smelled like wine, rancid wine.

Oh, my wife’s ambition! I imagine my wife, at home, excited by her sudden resolve: I will sip this last bit of wine, in private, in the garden, with a smoke! What mystifies me is the plastic wrap. It’s almost as if my wife knows she’s not going to drink the wine.

I’ve bought four pairs of nail-clippers since January. I use one. I put it back in a specific, little basket. And yet, I look in the basket, no nail clippers. Where have all the nail-clippers gone? Also, why are all my razors always dull, when, clearly, my razors are meant for males and I am the only male in my household?

Where is my tank-top? Where is my special Burt’s Bee’s comb, the only comb that seems to work with my hair? I heard my wife took it to the beach; I haven’t seen it since.

Where is all the Pyrex?

I asked my wife this last one recently: Where is all the Pyrex?

I don’t know, she said.

You don’t know?

I haven’t seen it.

Are you sure? Because I need that Pyrex for work. I bring it home, clean it. I use it again the next day. Are you sure you haven’t seen it. I really need it.

Maybe you left it at work, she said.

Maybe you did, I said.

No, she said. Impossible.

I suppose I felt vindicated, then, when I received this text-message from my wife the very next day: “Guilty as charged.”

There was also a picture:

My wife and I share a small, strange life. There’s mystery. There’s secrets. There are accusations. And then there’s absolution.

We both have quirks. And coupled with the annoyance, I should say, there’s also a lot of fun and side-splitting laughter. There’s impromptu caresses and bottles of wine and giant, festive chicken dinners. Honestly, I walk around most days, inspired and fulfilled, not just by the laughter, but the annoyance too.

Our wedding ceremony began with these words:

“The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. And, as the poet Pablo Neruda tells us, ‘words give crystal to the crystal, blood to the blood, and give life to life.’ Karen and Seth meet here today to celebrate life, and to give the gift of words to each other.”

Writing, it seems to me, is a fundamentally optimistic activity. It assumes that people care to hear what you have written. It also assumes that you care to take the effort to write about something that matters to you.

I suppose I can forgive my wife her quirks, then, because even in annoyance she inspires my ambition. She gives me, daily, the gift that has always been the most important to me: Words.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Napping & Productivity

I’ve just woken up from a nap, one of those epic mid-afternoon naps you wake up from, as if from a coma, thinking: Who the, what the? How did I get here? One summer, years ago, I woke up from such a nap in a state of mute fear; I turned my head, glimpsed an alien sitting behind my television. I was thirteen or fourteen.

Epic, life-changing naps hold a high status in literature. Neruda was an epic napper. One time I visited my uncle, a poet, in Berkeley; when I arrived he had just woken up from a nap. We walked around town, talking, and it wasn’t until he watched me take a shot of wheatgrass juice, one half hour later, that he finally shook off the nap. Roberto Bolano, I bet, napped. Jack Kerouac writes about waking up from an epic nap in On the Road:

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

(Incidentally, why does he have to write, “all the sad sounds?” The paragraph would be better without it…)

Today’s nap left me feeling wistful. I had a dream. In it, my friends Sue and Andres had come home from Barcelona. We were in some parlor celebrating their return. In the corner, my wife kissed a girl. Everyone went outside to have a smoke. I walked into another room and discovered my friend Kevin (Sue’s brother) sitting on a mattress. He was balding for some reason. I wondered who my wife was kissing now. I woke up.

I was supposed to go to my dad’s beach house today. I called him last night, told him I couldn’t come: my funds were low; I had to much to do.

My semester is over, but I still have a few assignments. I woke up incredibly early this morning, finished everything by noon. Suddenly, the day stood in front of me like a blank check. My novel was there, looming. I’d love to finish it by July (which means I need to be writing every day.) Instead, I worked out. I ate lunch. I sat in the sun, read for an hour. I came inside, flopped on the couch, napped.

It’s four o’clock now. I haven’t worked on my novel. I don’t intend to.

My father recently wrote a blog entry "Having Productive Days." He writes that “a productive personal day consists of doing at least one thing to improve yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.” At least that’s what he told a client. Then, as soon as he got home, he “ate something tasty, fixed myself a glass of vodka, turned on the television, and started playing poker.”

My wife, the lawyer, left the house this morning at five am. She had an asylum interview in New York City. She came home on her way back from NYC, and briefly entertained the notion of staying home for the afternoon, doing work on the laptop. Instead, she went to the office. She’ll work maybe twelve hours today.

How can I even begin to justify my afternoon’s laziness in the face of my wife’s tireless work-ethic? I don’t. We’re in different places, my wife and I: she’s two years into her law career; I’m just finishing graduate school, working part-time, trying to finish a novel, a novel I hope to publish. Right now, my wife is living the beginning of a successful career. I’m all promise.

Some people work all day; then, as a reward, they come home, eat a quick dinner and watch hours of T.V. Is this a productive life? If the money is there, many might say, Yes.

I’ve never allayed my sense of self-confidence to my income; if I did, I’d be a pretty timid guy. Still, from time to time, my own sense of productivity heckles me, says, What the hell are you doing?