My children walk away from me down our narrow road into the green-gold haze, toward the ice cream promised from the market around the corner. The sky overhead is white, silver and dark gray along the margins, a thunderstorm looming. The air is absolutely still, like the afternoon is holding its breath. A neighbor mows his lawn; I smell cut grass and ozone. Suddenly the sun peeks through and for a moment everything dazzles. My twelve-year-old daughter takes her six-year-old sister´s hand and they begin to skip. I stare after them. They are far enough away I can no longer hear their laughing, their sandals skittering along the twigs on the pavement. I realize I am standing alone in the middle of the street, hand resting on my chest. All of it – the afternoon, the storm, the children – is so beautiful my heart aches. I have forgotten to breathe.
I read an essay in the New York Times this morning, Modern Love, written by a woman who was coping with her husband´s midlife crisis in an atypical way. Having resolved that she was responsible for her own happiness, and the happiness of her children, and nothing else, she waited her husband out. She waited for him to come around, and surprisingly enough, over the course of the summer, he did. I admired her resolve. I thought her approach was both brilliant and possibly unmasterable. I admired the way she staked off her territory – what she owned, and the vast tracts that were somebody else´s responsibility. I pray for that kind of clarity on a daily basis.
How much of our burden belongs to us? What if we refuse to pick up anything other than the bits that are immutably ours? I peel a mango and slice it thin on a white bone china plate. Mango and warm sticky rice, sitting on the porch, watching the storm clouds dance high above my head. The cicadas are finally here.
It never hurts in any situation to remain calm, and think things through a bit before making any kind of life changing decision. I admire her ability not to freak out when he told her he didn’t love her any more. And she did put a time line on it, so it’s not like she was going to be strung along the rest of her life, waiting for him to snap out of it.
Love the comment about the stable boy, though!
Huh. I finally just got around to reading the Modern Love column. I can def see why so many of you are ragging on the writer but the idea isn’t so far-fetched. Divorce is great, when it really is necessary but sometimes….sometimes….stuff needs to be Not About You. And I totally get where she came up with that and why she was willing to wait this out, to see if it really was About Her.
And I’m going to give her a pass on telling us what a fab mother and human being she is – c’mon – woman’s gotta have something to hang on to. No matter how stoic she is/was during her husband’s freakout, it must’ve hurt like hell. I know – I’ve been there, on both sides of that particular fence. Sometimes it works out in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t.
Of course the whole ‘responsible space’ sounds too babble for my taste. But I can get the whole ‘I don’t buy it’ notion – when someone has shared XXX fabulous years and then (THEN) tells you s/he doesn’t know if s/he ever loved you….well…that’s just illogical. Like I said, been on both sides of that fence so I know how it feels to be sayer and hearer.
Relationships are just so damn much WORK.
Well … what YOU said, I guess. I must be weird. It’s okay, I put it out there for people to ponder. She clearly irritates some people (actually, the entire column clearly irritates some people.) But I found it a really disarming approach, and I totally agree with you on the “I don’t buy it” part. Sure, the easier thing in the moment is to say, you know what? Pack your bags and get out, jerk. I didn’t feel like she was being a doormat or a martyr. I felt like she was refusing to walk out on something that had, by her lights, been good for some time, as you said.
Relationships are a ton of work for sure.
Boy, you are right on that. Who knew there would be so many variations on “labor of love”? 😉
I wink, and smile knowingly…but it is true, eh?
livin’ the dream, baby….livin’ the dream…
Waving both arms wildly in the air to agree!
I just think you are a way, way, better writer than the Modern Love gal.
I get the idea, and appreciate it, and have even implemented a version of it in my own life (more than once). Such tactics are especially called for when the one lashing out is doing so because of illness, or circumstances beyond his/her control. But holy mackerel could her rhetoric be any more insufferable? If my spouse kept repeating “I don’t buy it” and “What can we do to give you responsible space” at me like some kind of therapized robot I’d have given up on the marriage right then and there. Perhaps she was less shut down in person (one hopes!) but, for me at least, it really doesn’t work as an essay.
I want to read the one you would have written, instead!
What She Said.
Sweetlife… you don’t agree the essay was great?
I don’t buy it.
What can I do to give you comfortable space with this?
Well, at least I got a lively discussion out of it…
It’s really a pet peeve of mine, that therapy-speak. Having been in lots and even given some, I try to avoid it in both life and writing. (And when I hear it coming out of my DH’s mouth I want to pick him up and throw him out the window.)
But really, I just think all good writing should avoid babble. It’s a cover-up and/or short cut for the emotions at stake.
what I woulda said was this:
“honey, you need to go sit your narrow @$$ down and figure out whazzup. Take some time, go sit over there (or somewhere else or wherever) and come see me when you figure out what it is that’s making you lose your mind.”
THEN I would’ve picked him up and thrown him through a window! LOL!
okay, mebbe not. Mebbe not right away, anyway.
I just recommended a book to LaBelleEnabler – The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper. It’s a bit indulgent and simplistic – but lordygee, the end is a Great Big Belly Laugh.
Another one (that sits squarely on this discussion). The evil, early genius of Fay Weldon “Lives and Loves of a She-Devil”.
Weird and evah so much fun revenge fantasy.
Oh yes, I know the Fay Weldon very well. It’s almost too dark for me–but I can’t look away, and I keep laughing!
And I love your response. Which is much closer to what mine was in real life (minus the window throwing).
i loved your essay, march, as usual.
and i love mangos with sticky rice, too – so much so that i’ve figured out a satisfying shortcut to making it. i use jasmine rice and coco lopez (a thick, sweetened coconut goo you find at liquor stores).
you just add a cup of rice to one cup of water and 3/4 cup of coco lopez (the liquid should be boiling when you add the rice). bring the rice to a boil, then down to a simmer for about 15 minutes. you can change the ratio of water to coco lopez if you want it sweeter or less sweet. served warm with mango slices, it’s close enough to the thai dish to be totally satisfying. i guess you could add some warm coco lopez to it after the rice is cooked, but i haven’t – my sweet tooth isn’t quite that sweet.
Srsly, Coco Lopez? Okay. I’m game. I think the coconut milk has to be sweetened anyway…
Exquisitely evocative post, doll.
This is also the lesson of my mid-life. Though the marriage/divorce struggle is long over (and resolved differently), it is just now that I have the sense of circling above and around myself and loved ones-my almost-grown child, my siblings, friends and lover, with “detached attachment”.
It is in fact quite lovely to watch it all. I can’t say that I always find peace, but I certainly stumble on joy and humor in a newly discovered way.
I know, we were just talking about this, with somewhat different parameters. Picking and choosing our battles, and ramping down the drama…
There’s usually quite a bit of eye-rolling at my house when I read the Modern Love column. But this week’s column fascinated me. It’s such a different approach; one I had never thought of. And like you, March, I’m at the point where many friends are in the miserable-and-about-to-divorce situation. Their grand dramas have been horrible to watch from the sidelines – experiencing it as one-half of a couple must be sheer hell. So good for her that her action (or inaction) worked.
Lovely writing, as always, March.
Hey, you can come sit by me! I was surprised by how mixed the reactions were to the column. Very educational for me.
Hey March –
I think this is one of a few times I have commented on this blog (although it is a permanent part of my morning readings….). I really enjoy your writing – you have a beautifully succinct prose, delicately detailed – just enough to make us feel that we are there with you – not only visually, but emotionally too…..that’s good writing.
Kudos to you,
Hey, Marko — thanks for delurking! It’s always nice to hear from a new, friendly voice.
I love this essay, you at your most evocative. I couldn’t comment until I had thoroughly meditated on the Modern Love column. I admire the concept, but personal application…..I don’t think I could do it, probably because there are no children at home to sustain. Marriage enters a whole new phase when the nest is empty. Anyway, thanks for your gorgeous images.
Thanks, doll. I am not sure I could do it either, but (like climbing a mountain?) there’s a part of me that wonders if I *could* do it. If I wanted it bad enough, you know?
Man, when my nest is empty I’ll be, like, 120 years old.
Really nice essay. Please oh please teach me how to make sticky rice! I can’t stand having to pay $6-something for one serving at the “Galangal Palace” or whereever every time I want some.
As for Modern Love, I really appreciate that attitude. Of course, I’m very, very single (and not always happily so), so take my approval with a grain of salt. The idea of putting a huge part of your life and happiness in someone else’s hands and being at their whim sort of freaks me out, so I like that writer’s attitude. It certainly is what some would call “zen like”, but it’s just what I, as a wannabe/sometimes/not-very-good practitioner would call plain ole Buddhist philosophy, and there’s nothing really “saintly” OR passive-aggressive about that. It’s quite mundane, really. My belief is that there’s gotta be some happy medium between dispassionate detachment (which may seem cold and ‘cyborg’-like) and the grand-soap-opera-style of relationship management (which I feel so many Americans practice, aptly described by your gasoline-and-match metaphor). I again highly recommend the writing of Cheri Huber in these and all matters. 😉
Joe, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I am sure part of it is my age, and the stage many of my friends/acquaintances are in right now. There’s a lot of anger and blame in these two-decade relationships, and a fair percentage are imploding under the stress. And in general, the anger/entitlement of folks in public in this area blows me away. When I am the calmest person in a situation, something is wrong. 🙂 So I had this sense of wonder reading her approach. Could I do it? Probably not. But I don’t feel like it was a foolish choice.
The dispassionate part of what I see in Buddhism, particularly as practiced in countries like Thailand and Cambodia, is a whole different thing I struggle with, and we can save that for some other discussion. 🙂
I may not share your philosophy, but I do share your love of sticky rice! You have to start with the proper rice — buy “sweet rice,” a glutinous variety you can find at Asian groceries — then soak it overnight, steam it, and when it’s done, pour hot sweetened coconut milk over it and let it soak in for about half an hour. Nirvana!
Natalie’s plan sounds good. Mine is regular old jasmine rice from Trader Joe’s, which I like because it smells good, but an Asian grocery would be a go-to place. I know rice-philes who swear by rice cookers, but I get acceptably sticky results with a 2/1 water/rice ratio, boil the water, add the rice, cover with lid, 18 minutes on a stovetop simmer in a heavy pot. (I generally do 2 c water, 1 c rice for a meal, or more if I want leftovers.)
Hey, Joe — I stumbled across this, it seems really easy and sounds like it would taste right. Microwave!
Thanks everyone for the sticky rice tips… I’m not usually one for using the micro for anything other than heating up, but that might actually work for a serving-for-one. I am so thankful I live in a town with great Thai restaurants, too.
You’re poetic and irreverent…and honest. Always. That’s why I always come back to this blog. You will never change–Thank God.
I loved your post- I felt I was almost there..
The Modern Love column I read and thought “good for you” in that A) if worked, and B) it could be construed as the most brilliantly passive-aggressive answer to that sort of thing possible.
But she is right. 90% of the problems in my life are directly my responsibility and blaming other leads nowhere. My possessions are not my happiness (and you’ve seen my car so they’d better not me).
Hey, I’d ride shotgun in your car any old time. Just remember to check under the seat for apples. That was a blast. I miss the farmer’s market!
Lovely story – yours, not the Modern Love column – and now I am craving both clarity and mangoes with sticky rice. Your work here is done. 🙂
Thanks. I’ve enjoyed all these responses!
Oh, what a crystalline picture! If we can see clarity so perfectly and paint it with such lucidity, perhaps we can own it. The portrait is beautiful!
OK, your girls, your mango and sticky rice — all perfectly delicious. But that Modern Love column? I’m sorry, but I found it the most insufferably smug bunch of claptrap I’ve read in a good long time — and that’s saying a lot for Modern Love. I think I’ve voiced my distaste for all things zen here before, but that lady took the cake with her holier-than-thou mien (and she just HAD to highlight her fabulosity by mentioning what a fabulous mother she was for being so zen with her kids and not yelling or tearing her hair out like normal people do). Apologies for my foul, zen-kill mood, but she really, really irked me!
So…. that’s a thumbs down from you, eh? I love the Modern Love columns. With a few exceptions I think they’ve been interesting and informative.
For this particular one, as I said, I found her approach refreshing. I guess, at this stage of my life, being surrounded by really angry people tossing gasoline and a match on whatever’s left of their marriages, her decision not to bail struck me as courageous, even if it’s something I am not sure I could do. And her comments didn’t feel holier-than-thou to me. I thought they served to explain her thought process as an attempt to ward off people who thought she was an idiot who should have tossed him out. In my opinion, her approach was better. I’d have said that even if it didn’t work.
Modern Love is the column I love to hate … I read it religiously, just so I can gripe about it! I guess I saw her less as courageous and more as a … cyborg? And I imagined myself in her hubby’s shoes — you tell someone you don’t love them and want out, and they don’t LET you?! I’m awful, I know, but I can’t help secretly hoping that she catches him with the stable boy…