the joy we don’t deserve

My friend Andrea took some time out from her ex-pat life in Panama to visit me in LA. Andrea is a remarkable woman and deserves a blog entry or three, but suffice for now to say that her own ongoing divorce makes mine a cakewalk in comparison. (Thank you, California, for being a no-fault state. In Panama, if one spouse does not agree to a divorce, you have to go to court and prove that your spouse has been unfaithful, or tried to kill you twice. Not once, but twice. Because, as you know, one murder attempt is so mundane.)

I’ve known Andrea for seventeen years. We were at Queen’s University together, in the same dorm and on the same scholarship. She’s one of the smartest women I’ve ever met. She does an excellent imitation of her mother’s pet parakeet. It charmed me so much that she performed it at my wedding. She did this voluntarily. I love her for that.

The night she left to go back to Panama, she said, “Don’t take this the wrong way…Not that I think you will…”

So of course I braced myself for some horribly accurate observation.

“There’s no music,” Andrea said.

I drew such a blank that I actually wondered if she meant this as a metaphor. The day the music died in Bel Air…after the night the lights went out in Brentwood…

“At university you played music all the time . Everytime I visited you in your room, you had music going. But since I’ve been here you haven’t had the stereo on once.”

It was a startling observation for a couple of reasons. I hadn’t realized that I’d played music so obsessively back then, or that I’d more or less cut myself off from one of life’s greatest pleasures. Because it’s true. I listen to music in my car, and I often listen to it when I write — I’m listening to Kings of Leon as I write this — but I can’t remember the last time I thought to put music on when doing anything else. How did I fall out of that habit? Because the ex-husband was working on his laptop in the bedroom, didn’t want to hear it? Because the high-end TV/DVD/stereo system in the living room was too bloody complicated and bugged out half the time? Why, in the six months since my ex moved out of the house, haven’t I set up some modest arrangement in my bedroom suite, or the home gym? Then, instead of rocking out in my car I could learn French the way I used to do…when I was making some pretty good progress in the language…until satellite radio trumped the French CDs. But it’s not like I need to choose one over the other.

Odd, how we sometimes have to give ourselves permission just to realize that we like something. As if extracting joy always comes at a price, and therefore we do not deserve it. Could not deserve it.

I remember when I was nineteen or twenty and sitting in a movie theatre about to watch Speed for the fourth time. Although Speed has never made my personal top ten, I enjoyed that movie so much it was a revelation.

Actually it was two revelations. The first was that Keanu Reeves is awesomely beautiful and I would like him to be my boyfriend.

This has yet to materialize, but one can hope.

The second was that I really loved going to movies by myself and wanted to do it as often as possible. As the theatre went dark and the previews began, I remember giving myself permission to do exactly that: go to the movies as often as I could. And I remember how this act of simple permission felt forbidden and dangerous and daring. Keep in mind we are not talking about snorting cocaine while cavorting with rock stars and base-jumping off hotel roofs. We are talking about going to the bloody movies.

Other than the night Sam and I saw Gran Turino, I haven’t been going to the movies lately either. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything by myself.

As part of my ongoing quest to cultivate a fierce self-love*, I will now get with the program.

More music and movies in my life. Starting now.

* It’s possible to value your image while secretly loathing yourself, and many people do this. I have done this. I sometimes wonder if my little car incident last spring — when I managed to wreck my Maserati at five miles an hour — was an unconscious attempt to kill the image without harming myself or anyone else — was, in fact, an act of demented if sincere self-love. Sounds melodramatic, yes, but I am a novelist and my mind tends to work like this.

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