Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I'm Only Burned on the Inside
Daisies stand up on their tiptoes Clouds stumble over themselves in the sky And all the pretty horses come runnin' to her Even the dust devils pray They'll catch her eye I haunt her house from the outside I watch her bake cornbread and talk on the phone And the wireless on the inside plays a sad, sweet song A mute, moonlit statue am I She waltzes alone But baby, baby, I could call you baby If I weren't so empty in the head and tied up in the tongue And baby, baby, I could call you baby If I weren't so green and dumb --RCPM, "Green & Dumb" One of the biggest mistakes I ever made came from learning a completely wrong lesson. I hadn't dated at all in high school. I'd been the fat, weird kid with no self-esteem. The girls weren't really interested in me. Or, if they were, I wouldn't have been able to believe it to be true. I tend to doubt the latter to this day, so let's stick with the former explanation. It matters not. The fall after high school I started dating a girl. Looking back on it, I know it was a bad idea and I know I knew it was a bad idea. I didn't actually like her all that much. I just dated her because I could and I figured anything was better than nothing. She, meanwhile, had a history of using guys and swore up and down that she'd changed her ways. She hadn't. When it eventually, inevitably, fell apart, I decided I was never going to make that mistake again. I was, instead, going to figure out who the perfect girl was and only date someone who met the criteria. It's laughably stupid, but somehow I can't find it funny. I managed to pretty much mess up about six years of my life with that notion. There was a girl named Candy (to protect the innocent, I've bestowed them with stripper names) who I would have preferred dating instead of the girl who helped me usher in my years of stupidity. She was my baseline. Following that, I spent, like, three years thinking Jade was the greatest thing in the world and I'd be lost if I didn't spend the rest of my life with her. Then she pulled the exit stage left from my life and along came Lightning (I don't really know any stripper names, so this is an American Gladiators name) and about a year where I'm pretty sure I drove myself insane. That's one of those periods I only talk about with the one person who already knows the story or when I've had a bit to drink. During the period when I pulled myself away from the abyss of insanity, I realized that there's no such thing as the perfect woman. I had created an impossible standard in my head and attempted to project it on to innocents who had no reason to be a party in my stupidity. Armed with that knowledge, I figured everything was grand and when I met another Candy (they're everywhere!) who was pretty damned cool and seemed to be interested in me, I figured it was smooth sailing. Until it turned out that she just wasn't as interested as I'd thought or hoped. Therein was the beginning of some hard-earned wisdom. To put it simply, I learned that if she's not interested, I can fight it all I want, but that ain't gonna change. I can't make anyone like me. I can't make anyone fall in love with me. In all honesty, if I could make someone fall in love with me, I'd probably be doing myself a great disservice. Her, too. That's not the foundation of a relationship, it's the foundation of a dependency. Nobody really wins there. As I began trying to convince myself to move on, I attempted to adopt various song lyrics as something of a mantra, including: The breeze is blowin' me a new perfume It's givin' my heart a little elbow room --RCPM, "Counterclockwise" The weird thing is, although the breeze hasn't really been blowing me any new perfumes lately, I think I managed to take the concept figuratively. The first time I really listened to "Green & Dumb," was really only six months ago. I'd heard it before, but never paid that much attention to the song. Then one day I got around to getting Real to Reel and understood the song. I think I had to hear it a couple times, though, before I realized it was a song tailor made for an idiot like me to lament the fact that the girl with whom I was in love wasn't in love with me. Mostly because it took me that long to realize I wasn't thinking of anybody while I listened to the song. Still, it's kind of funny to sit back and evaluate the little tricks the mind tries to play on itself. I'd realize on some level that I couldn't force her to want me. The next thought would then inevitably be, "Well maybe if I stop trying to force her she'll come around on her own." This would eventually be replaced with either an attempt to make things happen according to my own timetable or bitterness that I couldn't. Needless to say, things didn't go so well. I said that I'm doing this to help myself see the lessons I've learned. Now that I'm on entry three, I'm starting to see just how interconnected the whole thing is. I wrote out a list of lessons I've learned in one of my old notebooks back on Sunday. It was just a brainstorming session of sorts. Now I see that this lesson and the lesson about turning my back on the open door are completely intertwined. I've known they were connected. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how long I should wait for her to come around before it started impinging on my own life and future happiness. Once I finally decided to stop, I realized I'd already waited too long. As best I can recall, the realization I had basically boiled down to the fact that I was ignoring or even closing other doors just to make sure I kept that one open. If I kept following someone else around while she lived her life, I wouldn't be living my own. Deep down in my soul was a realization that I kept trying to bury but just couldn't keep down. I knew that someday she'd go off and get married and it wouldn't be to me and if I kept insisting on waiting for her to come around on that day I would realize I hadn't bothered to create my own life. I didn't want that. By the same token, I knew that, hey, times change and people change. So I decided to compromise. I decided to leave the door open, but leave it behind me. And if the winds of change blow it shut, such is life (also, was that one of the worst mixed metaphors ever, or was it just me?). Meanwhile, in another one of those odd connections, while reading the lyrics to "Hourglass" last night, I couldn't help but be drawn to the chorus: Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream When will this current find the ocean? Where will this river meet the sea? And I don't know why we float But I like this buoyancy Each moment lent, I already spent now My favorite currency --RCPM, "Hourglass" I couldn't help but be reminded of the end of my favorite work of fiction: Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. At some point during the period in which it looked like one of those impossible fantasies might actually come true, my Daisy of the time found out that F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was my favorite work of fiction. I don't read much fiction and she'd never read it, so she took it upon herself to read the book. Her conclusion was pretty simple and straightforward. "I understand why you like that book," she told me, "You're a lot like Gatsby." (It was something like that, but I couldn't give you the direct quote.) I came to understand somewhere in there why I was so drawn to the study of history. I think I honestly believed that if I could study history and learn all its lessons, I could figure out how to never make mistakes again. I wanted to take that macro-level understanding and turn it on myself so I never screwed up and could be all I wanted to be. I put the header on the top of this blog right about the time I was figuring that out. "Searching the past to understand the future" seemed like a catchy way to remind myself of the real end goal. I'd always been chasing my past before, trying to figure out how to fix mistakes I'd already made and avoid facing new heartache by hiding in the old. There's a saying in the military that you're always preparing for the last war. We saw the principle at work in Vietnam when an army designed to fight the wide-open, technologically sophisticated clashes of brigades, divisions, and corps was completely stymied by guerrillas armed with antiques and stealth. I think it points out a fundamental truth of human nature. We tend to prepare for our last relationship, our last job, our last basketball game. We go in with our catalogs of mistakes and missteps and say we'll never make them again. Then we find out that our carefully planned scenarios never come up and before we know it we're making a new list of mistakes we're never going to make again. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying to reject history, be it macro- or microhistory. Past experiences are massively instructive for future events. It just requires a degree of care, and learning the wrong lessons can be disastrous, whether you're wasting five years and thousands of lives in Iraq or five years and hundreds of great opportunities searching for the non-existent perfect woman.