Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, June 30, 2006

On the coast again

Dahlings, as you might guess from this here signage, I’m on the road once more, and probably won’t have too much time for blogging, alas. Do check out VJ’s interesting article reference, posted in one of the comments for the post below. And don’t forget to respond to my poll if you haven’t already! For those of you up for photoblogging, keep an eye on my flickr page, where I’m posting stuff rather regularly.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Taking a risk on jazz

For how particular I can be about music, you’d think it’s the last thing I’d take risks on. But somehow, most times I buy something yet unheard or make a similar gamble, I make out just fine. When, for instance, a friend offered to take me to hear this new singer called Norah, it turned out my girlfriends’ insistence I should go was dead on.

A similar thing happened maybe two or three weeks ago, at the post office. I know, doesn’t; sound like a glam meeting place, right? And the catchiest soundtrack you’re likely to hear is the ring tone of someone who’s secretly fond of salsa. But that night I was in luck.

I’d stopped by after hours to mail a CD from my barter bin swap, but someone was already stationed at the AutoPost center. Not until he offered to let me go ahead did I realize how much he was mailing. Piles and piles of Uline bags, all strangely close in shape to mine. And when I saw he was mailing some to people in Palo Alto, it was all I could do not to swoon right there on the spot (fond memories of falling down stairs, and all that).

Somehow or other, I managed to dredge up an opening line. Yes, he was in a band.

I rattled on about band friends about of mine — none of whom he’d heard of.

Then something inspired me to drop another kind of name — my editor friend at Paste magazine. “I’d be happy to send your CD to him,” I offered. Which, truthfully, was not the pick-up line it might have sounded like — despite the chance to hand off one of my business cards. Even that sometime, sorta-prospect Tall Drink o’ Water ain’t made it out of reply-to hell yet. He emailed me two months ago, but I still haven’t written back though he now brings it up every Sunday. (Can a girl tastefully mention she’s trying to break her habit of simply using men for attention?)

This time, however, my motives were strictly generous — and dependent on a stranger’s uncertain promise to send me his album. When you’ve been under- or unemployed nearly two years and mingle in several different social scenes, you give out a lot of business cards. But unless you email the people you meet yourself, the response rate is usually pretty dismal.

Off I went, Band Guy soon forgotten, and my card probably fated much the same. Or so I thought.

But then a few days later, what should I find in my mail but a package with two CDs — one for me, one for Friend-at-Paste. Band Guy had better follow-through than I’d figured on. So what about the music?

He’d said it was some kind of “boogaloo” jazz, which could be good or mean nothing. His band isn’t with any label, but the CD jacket had a snazzy design. And if phone voices tend to indicate looks, I like to think product design can sometimes portend well of the contents. Flip open the jacket. Nothing much inside the one-fold card, but a picture of the band, somewhat badly photographed on a staircase. Huh. Guess boogaloo takes lots of folks to make!

But just as I’m starting to refold the liner, I notice a female face in the crowd. Wait a minute ... Is that ... Flip to backside again.

And that’s when I notice a credit for El Madmo. While I can’t promise you said “punk” act will show up at the CD release party, which is tomorrow night at Detour ($5 cover), I can tell you the CD is great. Check out several tracks on MySpace, or just risk it and buy the dang album. Or come out to Detour and give the band a listen live! You won’t be disappointed.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In the thick of a pickle, pt. 2

Lots of poll responses rolling in, but don’t forget to respond if you haven’t yet. Respondents entered to win home-made cookies or a CD (if you live abroad)! Also, as a shout-out to my SanFran readers, any of you know someone in the SF/East Bay area who could use a house- or petsitter during the first half of July? If so, please let me know. Thanks! And now the conclusion to last week’s post on decision-making.

When should you quit, give up, or bail on your plans?
A few months ago, Blogyenta was knitting a sweater with some reluctance. According to the pattern, there were 30- or 40-odd rows left to knit, but she thought it was plenty long enough. Still, a pattern is a pattern, and in things like knitting it’s completion that really matters. Then I mentioned the sleeves. You see, unlike some patterns where each piece is knit separately, the sleeves and body for her project were worked together into a yoke. Because she’d already attached the sleeves, the undue length of the sweater did not just turn the body into a tunic-long sheath, it made the sleeves worthy of a giraffe! At that she gave up and ripped it all out. I’ve done the same with other sweaters. Sometimes no matter how much you’ve invested, going forward is just throwing good time, or energy, or money, after bad.

If only I had learned that in high school. Senior year was the long-awaited chance to get into Harvard, which goal I’d been bent on since freshman year. But somehow I got the application quite late, leaving just one short week to put it together — this, one of the most involved such packets. I remember wondering then if I should give up, but stubborn commitment impelled me onward. How could I get to the point I had been planning on all throughout high school to just give up? I soldiered on and finished, despite secret doubts that Harvard was really the school I’d be most happy at after all.

I even got an interview, with some alumnus in central Phoenix. But as Mom and I drove home afterward, I remember feeling misgivings, a sense that the Harvard evoked in our talk that day was either not the school I’d always imagined, or that what I’d always thought my ideal school was might be something I wouldn’t like after all. By the time they sent out rejection letters, I almost regreted I’d even bothered applying. However much those three years of silly dreams and expectations had cost me was nothing compared to the four years of time and money I could have wasted just to satisfy a girl who no longer existed. In that case I hung in too long, but sometimes adversity tests both your wisdom and patience.

When should you hang in there, persevere, and follow through?
I first approached an agent with my book idea almost a year and a half ago. At the time he blew me off, said my title was crap, seemed to regret he’d agreed to meet with me; his only advice was to start at Condé Nast somewhere, slowly make my way through the ranks and make friends and eventually climb my way out of writer’s hell — in which he judged a blog level seven or eight, if not nine. That was February. Six months later the agent who’d signed me was accepting an offer from Random House.

It’s not that the first guy’s advice was all that bad, but something in my gut told me I was onto a good idea. The same sort of sense I’d often felt and chose to ignore that whoever my present crush was wasn’t the sort of guy I should be with. Sometimes struggle isn’t a sign you’re on the wrong path, just that your character could use the work. And sometimes your heart, if you really listen carefully, is telling you which way to go. I say that cautiously, for mine has proven corruptible, but God has nevertheless worked through faulty instinct to caution and to encourage. Usually when I’ve pursued things to my folly, it was by drowning out the quiet voice of warning within that gainsaid this latest recklessness.

Bottom line? The next time you’re feeling restless or just plain frustrated with some aspect of your life, take time to think about what the real issue is. Face the fears that might be keeping you from finishing, and the fears that might push you to following through on something you should give up. And if you’re a Christian, quiet your heart before God and see what motives He exposes. Many times He’s blessed unlikely, even seemingly unwise moves on my part (like how I came to New York), but even more times He’s withheld blessing on things I wanted more than to please him.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reader poll

This week’s post is below, but I’m keeping the poll on top as a reminder to please respond. The more of you who reply, the more helpful it is both to the blog and planning promotion for the book. Reply via email. Further incentive: all respondents through the end of June entered into a raffle for homemade cookies (domestic readers) or a CD (international readers).
  1. Sex? (as in, which are you)
  2. Age: (at least an estimate, if you’re shy)
  3. Relational status: dating? single? engaged? married? celibate?
  4. Educational status: in school? have degrees? how many?
  5. How would you describe your religious or spiritual life: Buddhist/Catholic/atheist/addicted to chocolate? Etc.
  6. Where do you live?
  7. How long have you been a reader?
  8. How often do you check in — daily/weekly/monthly/when insomnia strikes?
  9. How did you find this blog — Rolling Stone, Godspy, Village Voice, a friend, or random googling?
  10. What would you like to see more of, content-wise?
  11. What would you like to see less of?
  12. Is there a song or topic you’ve always hoped Anna would address?
Finally, several items remain from last week’s barter bin, so don’t forget to check it out if you need perfume, CDs or new shades.

In the thick of a pickle, pt. 1

Back when I was in grad school, about ... oh ... five years ago (!!!), one professor had a simple but basic mantra: “Finish. Just finish.” At the time, I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about — didn’t most folks who started graduate programs complete them? Then I had to defend my thesis proposal and for the first time as a student had my intellectual clock cleaned. I came out of that session shocked and battered, suddenly daunted by the task that lay before me — and how closely my committee planned to scrutinize. This was, of course, a good thing. But it also tested my mettle and follow-through in ways I didn’t expect.

Though the actual thesis defense months later was less painful, the changes asked for were substantial enough I had to delay graduation by three month. At first I felt like I had failed. But that, perhaps, was where the real test occurred: would I overcome this fear and self-pity so as to persevere to the finish line, or would I succomb to doubt and procrastination?

By God’s grace I made through, but in the years since facing that setback, I’ve realized how apt my professor’s words were. Long-term endurance is hard, and possibly nothing tests that exactly the same way writing, marriage and parenting do. I grieve for friends who have gotten stuck on their thesis or dissertation then quietly drifted away to other things. Not that forsaking a project run amok is always bad, but I don’t think it’s knowing when to give up that plagues this culture, it’s knowing how to persist to the end. If you’ve ever been stuck in a quandary like that, here’s how I suggest you might think it through.

Which question is the right one?
Whenever things get rough, our first thought is probably whether or not we should quit or go on. But that depends on the reason things have gotten rough. In the first mile of running, your body is usually grumpy at moving — but once you get past that initial hump things even out. If, however, you haven’t run in a while and you choose the steeper of two possible routes to travel, if might be advised to turn back and take the more level path, depending on how poor or good your health is. In the one case, the roughness is just a part of life, a part of how your body operates. In the other it’s more a case of particular circumstances — your present health, and the incline of the course.

My first job in the city grew fairly miserable after a few weeks of gloating that work didn’t start till 10 or later, and how I could make endless espressos on-site. Circumstance or part of life? In that case it was both. The workplace was notorious for a fairly high rate of turnover, and the boss had quirks including a tacit discouragement of lunching outside the office. There also was no health insurance, smoking in the office and other things clearly not the norm, much less the law, for a job of that sort. Exiting such a workplace made good sense.

Departing, however, could not address the underlying restlessness that had more to do with trying to find my place in the city, figuring out my vocational “calling” and where I could use my talents. As I’ve written previously, there’s a season of paying your dues that almost nobody gets around. And if you do, it catches up to you later when you face challenges you don’t quite have the wisdom or experience to face. Writing first my thesis and now my book are projects that challenge me not because I should abandon them but just because perseverance is hard work. My “office” is littered with knitting projects and papers right now because I’m good at starting things, much worse at getting them done.

So since I will complete this mini-series next week, think about the relationship, struggle or project that’s currently bugging you. To what part is your frustration due to the cause itself, and to what degree is it you or just how life goes? Is this a chance to learn character and discipline, or a signal it’s time for a change?

Coming next Monday, my thoughts on when to bail and when to persevere. Don’t forget to respond to my poll, please, please, please!!! :)


Monday, June 05, 2006

Anna’s barter bin and other matters

Thanks ever-so-much for your patience, dahlings! I’m back, I have fresh coffee, and the newest rewrite of Sexless, pt. 1 is now settling into Poster Boy’s inbox or some folder on his laptop. My bank account, however, is not looking so good. Seeing as how I have meanwhile accumulated an awful lot of stuff I don’t really need, thought I’d start this week’s post off by attempting an online swap-n-shop. Contact me if you’re interested; trades or cash accepted; close-ups available on request.

Stuff I’ll part with
  • Glama: One (CD) featuring Pussy Tourett, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, The Klezmatics and others
  • The Manhattan Transfer Anthology: Down in Birdland (2-CD set); cracked case but otherwise in fairly good condition
  • Rolling Stones: More Hot Rocks (2-CD set)
  • 1 pr. Diesel sunglasses, light brown and fairly oval; original case missing, but will ship with alternate
  • Ikea wood picture frames, 4x6, set of 3; never opened
  • John Updike, Couples; looks like it’s been read, but few to no notes in margins; spine still straight
  • Marc Jacobs perfume; won’t ship in original container, but I sure don’t need all 3.4 ounces I have! Let me know roughly how much you want (.5-2 oz), and I’ll do my best to approximate
Done laughing yet? Excellent. Here’s what I’ll take:
  • unused mascara samples
  • Starbucks cards
  • iTunes credits
  • chocolate covered espresso beans
  • Trader Joe’s or TJ Maxx gift cards
  • any of the CDs on my lust list (please, no ripped versions)
  • Metrocards for NY and/or BART subway system (will be out there in July)
Wow, I think even I’m embarrassed now. But hey, no shame, no gain, right? ;) Yes, Chad, singleness really has gone to my head. Here’s the proof: early-onset spinsterhood.

But actually, and more seriously, I want to say something more about that. First, for those who didn’t read Chad’s response to my last column, here’s a summary. He contests that I’m merely putting a positive spin on latter-20s singleness to feel better about my own state, that people who marry young don’t necessarily face fewer opportunities than their single peers, and that I probably would have chosen to marry younger had I met the right guy earlier. He raises several important points, which I’ll try to address here.

First, is one state better? I will freely confess, though I thought that came through in the post Chad was referring to, that I’ve spent most of my life thinking marriage is better. I bridle when people use Paul to try and argue that the single state is actually God’s superior plan, or a more-righteous choice for Christians. If that’s somehow meant as an endorsement of lifelong individualism, it’s bunk. The Bible is very clear that we are meant to live in community, and desperately need to exist in a system of interdependent relationships. How much that consists in immediate families will vary from person to person, but it should at least involve a local church community. We need places to serve and be served, encourage and be encouraged, bless and be blessed — no matter the left-hand jewelry we wear.

My point was that I’ve long struggled to see any genuine value or “gain” in the road God’s led me down. For years the only things I could have praised would have looked something like the list of a Relevant writer I criticized last year. Singleness was, in my book, fairly lose-lose compared to the win-win status of married folk. But as I’ve started listening to more of my married friends, I realize they face choices that are more complicated than mine have been. Just as I have faced an “opportunity cost” for spending my twenties as a single woman, they too have had various trade-offs for marrying earlier. They get more sex and male attention, sure, but they also face struggles I was too blind to see for years.

God will refine our character no matter what. For some of us, that means waiting a while for our greatest desire, for others it may mean getting that and then realizing we don’t feel any more filled on the inside. My pastor had an interesting point last night, that both Elisha and Joseph faced severe crises when they were in Dothan. Both men cried out for help, but in the former case we’re told God sent chariots of fire to protect him, while in the latter case, God let him get sold into slavery. Same God, different men. Same power, different exercises. Sometimes God lets us suffer through certain things, sometimes He chooses to rescue us.

And that’s what I was really trying to wrestle with, Chad. If I keep whining and moaning about why I’m single, what does that say about God’s goodness? That He somehow screwed up in my case? That He didn’t know what was best for me? Of course I can’t say that. And if I can’t, that means God must have so far given me the best life I could have lived. For someone else that best life might be marriage at 21; for me it isn’t. But neither of us knows what is in our future. Joseph needed to somehow wind up in Egypt so he could spare that country from starving when great famine came. And that’s just how he served as blessing to others! No doubt God also used his suffering to mold and refine his character so he would be the man he needed to be to complete that later good work.

I always have a real hard time looking back at my life and saying I would change things — even times of great pain. I went through 18 months of anguish, convinced that an already-married man was the soulmate I’d never get to be “with” in a legitimate way. At the time it hurt like hell. More recently, an old crush suddenly showed a never-before-seen interest in my life and became a guy friend like I’ve never really had before — prompting me to think he wanted far more than friendship. He didn’t. So what do I do? Do I scream and yell at God for letting me waste so much emotion, for bringing these men into my life just to cause me grief?

I can’t. For woven into those months and months of pain is such redemption and growth, I’d never be the person I am now without how God brought such good from the things that hurt me so much. And I’d rather be the woman God’s making me into than someone with less-scarred skin and a far more shallow outlook on life. Pain is not the variable in life, growth is. The miracle — and God’s kindness to us — is that if we let Him, He’ll use our seasons of pain to bring growth and depth. As an old David Wilcox song I like says, “All the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.”

For years I struggled to say it, as if accepting God’s plan for my life so far meant He could keep me single the rest of my days, but I have to say it: I wouldn’t trade the years I’ve lived as a single woman for the husband and marriage I didn’t get. I see now that I couldn’t have written the book that I am, which feels like one of the most important things I’ve done with my life so far. Who knows how God will use it? If nothing else, it’s one way that my singleness can hopefully be a blessing for many others. And that’s what the Christian life is all about: service. Either you are sacrificing yourself for spouse and family, or you’re sacrificing yourself for friends and loved ones; the sacrifice isn’t the variable, it’s those you get to bless through it.