Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Fugitive Resentment in your Eyes

Diary Entry. March 24th, 2006.

People are always talking about love at first sight. Of that instant recognition between strangers, of the way your eyes meet across a crowded room and you know in an instant that he or she is right for you. This notion of instantaneous attraction is central to our mythology of desire: "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" Christopher Marlowe writes; "Lovers at first sight, in love for ever" Sinatra sings.

But what about the other way round? What about that moment when you look across the table at a loved one and know with a terrible clarity that it's over? What about that premonition? That certainty? The shock of the moment like an X-ray, turning all your dreams of the future transparent, showing you the bones of the emptiness that lies behind. Dickinson writes: "Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn / indicative that suns go down: / the notice to the startled grass / that darkness is about to pass".

Oh, you'll deny it to yourself, of course. Shrug it off. Pretend you never thought it. For weeks, months, maybe even years, you'll continue to live the lie, like the skin of a bruised plum that keeps its lustre, even as the pulp grows rotten within. There'll be that long, slow process of disengagement, the creeping arguments that become ever more frequent, ever more bitter; the increasing sense of alienation, the desperate attempts to remind yourself what it is about the other person that makes you love them. (Empson writes: "Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills / 'Tis not the effort nor the failure tires / The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.")

But sooner or later, when the final quarrel is done with, when your friends and family have finally been told and the one line explanations for what went wrong concocted, you will look back on the course of your relationship and know, with complete clarity, the day, the hour, when things started to go wrong. The first time you knew.

How much of this is just self-fulfilling prophecy? How much of this is just that seed of suspicion, which, once planted, corrupts everything else? How much of this is just our ridiculous need to be right, even at the cost of our own happiness. (Hughes writes: "It must have taken supernatural greed / To corner all the meat in the world / Even from your own hunger").

How much of this is just a trick of memory - so that we remember only the prophecies that turn out right, and conveniently forget those that we get wrong?

And what if we are just misreading the whole thing? God knows we're wrong often enough about love at first sight. So that the person we imagined was the paragon of our dreams turns out to be psychotic or dim-witted, selfish or just plain boring. If we can be mistaken there, why not here? Is it better to bear the slings and arrows of a relationship that seems increasingly outrageous, or by opposing end them?

Do you believe in love at last sight?

Do you want to?


I'm no longer sure what it is we were arguing about. I have some vague memory of it being something to do with Hemingway's women. Something banal and obvious like that. She was arguing (if I remember it right) that the reason women in Hemingway's novels are always two-dimensional was because he was a raging misogynist. Women threatened him, made him nervous. That's why he retreated into the security of violence. Hence the bull-fights, the hunting, the obsession with guns and war. Hence the mythologising of isolation. Just a lonely old Bluebeard who couldn't get any. My argument (which she stubbornly refused to see) was that all of that was true, but it was only a symptom of a larger masculine persona that Hemingway was trying to identify with. That Hemingway's novels were misogynistic because they were celebrations of a unique sub-culture of macho-ness which was, in its essence, a reaction to the threat presented by the growing power of the feminine. It wasn't Hemingway who was in retreat, it was the American male, and Hemingway, scenting a story, just went along for the ride. But why did he choose to deify that culture, if he didn't subscribe to it? she argued. Because it was there and someone had to write about it and it needed a language and a style all its own and Hemingway had it. What else did you want him to do? Write about the metrosexuals of the day, the swinging urban crowd? Fitzgerald already had that beat covered.

At any rate, we argued. We quarrelled. We fought. Voices were raised,then died out completely as an endless silence gripped the telephone, coiled itself around the receiver like a snake around its prey. It was strange. Early on, when the silence was just a pause, a break in the conversation, a drawing back, it would have been easy to change the topic, switch to talking about something else. But then the silence got longer and longer and the stakes kept rising proportionally. Soon the silence had lasted so long that almost anything you said would seem like a comedown, like a sacrilege. And of course, the stronger that feeling got, the longer the silence lasted.

We finally made it through the conversation though. Eventually I said something, she responded. We exchanged some platitudes, picking carefully around the the argument we'd just had, like a nurse cutting the cloth away from the edge of the wound - our very hesitation leaving the unspoken words more exposed. We signed off quickly. We were both relieved.

Once I was off the phone, my conscience started to gnaw at me though. What had I been arguing for anyway? It's not like I even like Hemingway. And I totally agree that he couldn't write a decent female character to save his life. Not even all those nurses (heh). So why then was I fighting about it? I considered calling her back. No. She'd been mad. I could tell from her voice. Better to wait till morning. Let it all calm down.

When she called, it took me by surprise. I hadn't expected that. I'd always assumed I would be the one to make amends. But here she was calling. Picking up the phone, I readied myself to be the bigger person, prepared myself to make amends. "I'm sorry", I said, "it's been a long day. I shouldn't have taken it out on you." But even as I said it, I could feel my irritation creeping back. What the hell was I apologising for anyway? It's not like it was all my fault. She was shouting at me too, you know. And she was the one who was wrong. She was the one who kept insisting that Hemingway didn't understand women, event though I'd never even denied that at all. Hell, I'd never denied that he was a woman-hater. Only that he became that way because he ended up relating too closely to the culture he was trying to portray. Like a method actor, only in print. Why couldn't she see that? Why wouldn't she listen?

All this time I'd been on the phone with her - trying to sound contrite, trying to be considerate. Then she said something about how "I was always making these stupid arguments". Stupid? ME? All my good intentions melted away. I was mad again. With great effort I restrained myself from saying something cutting. "Why don't we just talk about this tomorrow", I said. "I'm tired. I need to sleep." We both knew that was a lie.

Since then she hasn't called. And I haven't called her. It's been two weeks.

I'm not really sure why I haven't called. I could have. I know I've wanted to. I guess at first I was afraid that she'd still be mad and we'd end up going through the same loop again. Then, when a few days had passed I got to thinking - well, I said I was sorry, didn't I? I never heard her say that. Why should I cop the blame for all this? I said I was sorry. If she wants to accept my apology, wants to apologise to me in turn, let her call me back. Otherwise to hell with it. I've got my dignity. I don't need this.

That lasted about three days. All of this week though, I've been thinking I'll call her but I've kept putting it off. I don't know why. It's not that I'm angry anymore, or even that I want to make the point that it wasn't all my fault. I'm willing to take the blame for this (or at least I think I am) if it means being able to hear her voice again. I miss her.

I think the reason I haven't called is because I know how easy it would be for her to say the wrong thing if I did call, and for me to say the wrong thing back and for things to just go downhill from there. I know how that works. The delicate mechanism of these make-up conversations, so easily jammed, so easily turned awry. If that happens, if we start arguing again, then it'll really be over. There's no coming back from that. It'll establish a pattern - a groove that we'll keep falling back into, like a skipping CD that can't seem to move beyond the place it's stuck in. As long as I don't call her and we don't have another fight there's still hope. A diminishing hope, true. But hope. That's what I'm trying to cling to now. That's all I have left.

Why doesn't she call I wonder? Is she still mad at me? Or is it just that she doesn't care? Maybe I'm just imagining all this, maybe nothing's happened, we're not in trouble, maybe she's just been busy. No, come on, it's been two weeks. Maybe she's happy about this - maybe she's been wanting to get out of our relationship for a long time and now that she's found an excuse she's just using it to her advantage. Maybe she's seeing someone else. If that's the case there isn't much point in my calling her, is there?

I sit on the floor, re-reading my old diary entries, staring at the phone. Wishing she'd call. Please call, I whisper, when the silence of my room assures me that no one is listening.

Please call.

Categories: ,


neha vish said...


Cheshire Cat said...

Sure you're OK?

But she was right about Hemingway, you know...

Anonymous said...

simply brilliant.but it beats me... why do men have these super egoes?

Anonymous said...

why do i have this uncanny hunch that the whole story is a personal account??
A sequel to the relationship post?

Perhaps she really wants to get out the relationship and this just a convienient ruse... You must let her go.. I know what a relief it can be when one is let go..and to let go of someone too..
Old diary entries can relive memories.. but it mus be remembered that they are "old" and must give way for new ones which would one-day become old...
Ah!, Life goes on..

Falstaff said...

Neha: Thanks

Cat: Yup, I'm fine. And no she wasn't. By which I mean of course that I wasn't since there's no she and I just made up both arguments. Ah, well.

anon: Thanks. Though I wasn't really going for especially super ego here - if anything, the point is that you would think the guy had a super ego if you were on the other side of the phone, but actually he's just scared to call.

anon2: No, no - nothing of the sort. I'm not in a relationship, so I can't exactly be falling out of one, can I?

The story is fiction (though the first part, the diary entry, is something I've genuinely always wondered about) - it's only personal to the extent that it's formed out of scraps of ideas from books / movies / music in the last week, coupled with disconnected memories of my own.

Crp said...

>> why do men have these super egoes? <<

So that women can get together and discuss them on Oprah and say "You go girl", that's why.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Very nice, Falstaff.

But I almost feel a little cheated...all that sympathy I felt is now floating around with no place to go!

Couldn't you have just played along?


dazedandconfused said...

wow! became a teeny weeny bit laborious in the middle, but loved the way it ended.

Cheshire Cat said...

So my comment was non-fictional? Now I'm confused...

OK, no more subterfuge. My point is related to the discussion on the Kiran Desai post. You tag the post as "fiction", and indeed that is only being honest with the reader. I put it to you that you are mistaken, that you are deceiving yourself. Read the post again. If only you hadn't put in that fib about Hemingway, my argument would have been stronger...

You say it didn't happen to you, and of course I believe you. You believe in words too much.

anon2 said...

dazedandconfused & falsatff:
i always feel that falstaff tends to get a wee too laborious.. but then he is always worth all the effort..
this one's no exception..

@ falstaff: i trust u. this aint something that happened to u. But i choose to disagree with your slightly obtuse view on "love at last sight". It isnt always something that ends with longing, arguments , ego clashes et al..
sometimes, things can simply fall out on both sides and termination of the intimacy can just be "The perfect thing" that can happen to both of them... Though the comfort level doesnt diminish much... the rapport continues.
Something that happens when people grow up and grow apart.. Life isnt a game of tug-of-war always...

Falstaff said...

crp: nice.

how many roads: Oh, you can send me the sympathy. So what If I haven't been through this yet. Every person will have his dog-day, etc.

d&c: thanks. ya, the Hemingway bit was a little unnecessary in retrospect. it was just that I was playing out the argument in my head and I thought, why not put it in. In my original plan it went straight from something banal like that to "At any rate we quarelled"

cat: Sigh. Give me a little credit. I know the argument the narrator is using about Hemingway is a weak one. You can see that just reading the last bit of that first paragraph - it's hardly a convincing case, is it? If anything, I would say even the narrator knows that 'she's' right, which is why he's so defensive for the rest of the story.

On it being fiction: there are three sense, I think, in which it's fiction:

a) Literally speaking, this has never happened to me.

b) More importantly, it's fiction because while I write "I" I don't necessarily identify with the narrator, or rather, I treat him as a familiar other, setting him up to be more obtuse, more conflicted - I'm not trying to defend his point of view, I'm laying it open as best I can. that manipulation is what makes it fiction.

c) Most importantly, when I say it's fiction I mean that I'm not feeling anything like the narrator when I write it. The despair is entirely the narrator's, I'm sitting here typing this stuff out with a feeling in my heart that is half laughter, half the ecstasy that comes from writing something that seems to work

Certainly the post draws heavily upon memories and feelings that I've lived through myself. But what fiction doesn't? If anything, the fact that I can write about it is the surest evidence that I'm not caught up in those emotions any more - I couldn't be that accurate, that self-diagnostic if I were truly upset. It's not fiction to the extent that one has to imagine oneself into the narrator's situation in order to write effectively about him - the method acting bit coming back. But again, it's hard to imagine that that isn't true for a lot of fiction.

Okay, full disclosure: What i'm really doing here is the opposite of talking about things that have happened to me - I'm describing things that have never happened to me, but could have. We've all had fights with people we care about. We've all had that moment where we've been tempted to say - to hell with him / her. Mostly, we get past that. This story is trying to imagine what would happen if we didn't.

anon2: Oh, I'm not suggesting that love at last sight is always true, anymore than love at first sight is. (I personally am not a big believer in love at first sight anyway - I don't understand how you can fall in love with someone without finding out how she feels about Eliot and Plath first). I'm sure there are relationships that end the way you describe them - with a mutual termination of intimacy. But there are times when one has to fight it out. And besides, just because the falling out is mutual, doesn't mean that there isn't that moment when you know.

Whadaheg said...

Clever..Or maybe I'm reading "clever" into it.(reputations can be self-generative) Perhaps not contrived, the effect..But either way, cleverly contrived or not, rather interesting that a theme in the story is finding unrecognised life,invisibly playing itself out in the discussion that follows.
Were Falstaff's/Hemingway's "stories" his own? Or is he, "scenting a story, just going along for the ride?"
A much chewed over thought, debate-do writers write from their own experience? Do they write of their own world view?

Once Falstaff (/you) got off the phone, he(/you) stepped into the aforementioned ride I felt-the story that was pulsing with life till then, got sort of, well, two-dimensional. (think I see d&c nodding his/her head)

"like a nurse cutting the cloth away from the edge of the wound - our very hesitation leaving the unspoken words more exposed." Reading that, the recognition was palpable, almost physical.mmmm..

Or "Picking up the phone, I readied myself to be the bigger person, prepared myself to make amends." Those must surely come from those disconnected memories of your own that you were talking about-but the other happenings in the story(the guy's desperation/hope) seem contrived and stolen.
But then how much of what we are is our own? (This for the "unconventional" writer as well..)The boundaries between the self/other being rather fuzzy and all that.. And fuzzier still for writers with their heightened receptivity(man, do they scent out a story where n/one exists!) and ability for empathy-for not just "real" people and their trappings but for people in books, movies, music..

I think the story weakened not so much because it wasn't your own, but perhaps because you didn't care enough to sweat over it to make it your own before putting it up here.

And then again, there is only so much you can make your own, however receptive you are and however skilled at translating that into words. Your "real" voice comes through in non-obvious ways in a book you write(so she was right about Hemingway, I feel)-try to quell that voice and pander too much to the other, and your story will take on those unimpressive tones it did towards the latter half of it..


Anonymous said...

there are moments when 2x3x7 lets the world peek in through the walls..contrary to whatever has been said here [i didnt even read all of the comments]..but somewhere 2x3x7 has brought out his vulnerability bit...

Anonymous said...

the only blog i read whenever that is...know something 2x3x7..why?sometimes even i wonder why...i guess...there are times ..quite a few of them..when it seems as if someone has replicated in words one's thoughts...thoughts being mine..words being yours...wish could write the way you do...wouldnt have to type in read my ownself...

The Black Mamba said...


I think it all starts with the fugitive resentment in one's eyes. And that is the worst part about telephonic arguments - you don't see the resentment in his/her eyes- until its too late - until that pause in the conversation happens- when u are frantically trying to guess what is going on with the other - and the end begins to weave, weave the darkness in your mind.

MockTurtle said...

Firstly, love does not exist as a physical process. You can be sexually attracted to a person (love at first sight) and you can enjoy a person's company (a long term relationship).
If you have a compliant enough personality, you can convince yourself that you're 'in love' with practically anyone or anything forever.
If not, you find someone that you have enough in common with. Learn to live with their faults and eventually things hum along comfortably.
The notion of falling in or out of love is a fairy tale for the immature.
Coming to Hemmingay - He was not a misogynist. He lived his life to the fullest and wrote about women the way he experienced them. Read 'Fiesta: The sun also rises'. He falls in love with Brett who breaks his heart and plays with the lives of every other man who falls for her. Also, his first-person protagonist is impotent (so much for masculinity)

Anonymous said...

"but actually he is scared to call"
but falstaff any woman or for that matter anyone would fall for those three words "i miss you" ....all that the guy has to do is call her and say how much he missed her unless ofcourse ego comes in the way....don't u think so?
and crp....take heart..anyone can come together on oprah...

Falstaff said...

MK: Actually, your comment made me go the other way - do readers relate to what they know / what accords with their world view? If the bit about skirting the topic on the phone led to the shock of recognition and the last bit didn't - was it because you've experienced the former but not the latter? Even if the difference you're sensing is real, however, how much of it is real vs. made up cannot be the explanation for what works and what doesn't - both parts are equally real / fictional.

The Hemingway reference is partly contrived - I did mean to lead the discussion in the direction of where does the writer end and the person begin, but I think the discussion has taken it a little further than I had anticipated.

anon (okay, for starters, can you folks please use some made up name or the other - it's really hard to keep you seperate): Maybe. But I think it's important to make the distinction between vulnerability as a feeling and specifics - as MK would agree, I think, you can't write well without tapping into your own vulnerabilities at some level. But that doesn't mean there's any real information about my life in this stuff.

anon: Thanks. Glad you liked it.

BM: Agree. Though I think the bigger problem with phone conversations comes afterwards. It's not just that you can't sense when someone's upset or angry; it's also that once you get to the point where you need to break through the anger / hurt, you need gestures, not words. What I really hate about emotional phone conversations is your inability to reach out and touch the other person - being reduced to nothing but words to console them is so much harder.

mockturtle: I did say mythology you know. I wasn't exactly writing a scientific article.

On Hemingway: I'm tempted to let you and cat fight it out. I agree with you about Fiesta (which is one of my favourite Hemingway's actually) but I see Fiesta as bit of an outlier - and even in Fiesta Brett is hardly the most convincing female character ever written. I don't really have a point of view on whether Hemingway was a misogynist or not - I see it as irrelevant to appreciating his work, which I like for the style, but not particularly for the plot / characters, - but I do think he had little or no ability to create credible female characters. That isn't really a criticism - he made his choices, decided what he wanted to write about, and was good at it. Quibbling about whether he could write about women or not has always struck me as besides the point - it's never seemed to be something that he was trying to do.

anon: you would think so, wouldn't you? But the point is, what if she doesn't? What if he calls her and says I miss you and she doesn't respond to it. How do you move on from that? And if you can't, then, well, that's reason to be scared.

Aishwarya said...

This is gorgeous.

And I hope you feel sufficiently flattered by all these people who want it to be true. :)

And however much you care about the other person in a relationship, sometimes you're just predisposed to be annoyed with them.

Heh Heh said...

i loved the way people assumed this was about you.
but the part that rings true is that in your case an argument about Hemingway could actually be the trigger for a breakup.

Cheshire Cat said...

OK, directness, more directness - perhaps I was alarmed by the directness of the story. When I said the story wasn't fiction, I meant that it didn't have the form of fiction. I am referring to the immediacy, the lack of artifice, in the second part.

Reality and fiction aren't mutually exclusive categories, and ideally, they would be orthogonal -could be used in a complementary way to more effectively map a piece of writing without presupposing a relation between them. In practice, of course, what interests human beings most is "truth" (and our only world); the lineaments (or absence thereof) of fiction are seized upon, so gladly! Think of the tell-all memoir, or Reality TV. All that sudden senseless (hence effective) truth. Think also of "Ariel", of how distance deepens love...

I suppose there are two categories of concerns for the writer: the ethical and the aesthetic. A curious thing about a mass misapprehension of readers - the "mis-" soon goes missing. The writer comes to lack the prerogative to declare a work authentic (or the opposite - symmetrically so). The games of Ern Malley ended strangely; I believe Edmund Morris' Dutch adventure was also a squib.

But perhaps the more serious concern is aesthetic. Do you really want the judgment of your work dominated by the reader's sympathy for the narrator's bitter "reality"? Even if, especially if, the resulting judgment is positive. Manipulation cuts both ways - readers do manipulate the meanings of texts. But the writer has the advantage of playing first .

One must play when one can. With the central paradox of language -
words can be used to cordon off just as much as to connect. Of course there is a desire to capture an experience absolutely within language, to abolish distance between language and the world. I believe that is impossible. I believe you believe in words too much.

Then again, maybe you are writing for yourself in this case, and not for an audience. You are (or rather your blogself is) self-avowedly paranoid. Writing about your fears, forcing yourself to run the whole gamut of emotions (but not really ), could make them disappear...

It's possible.

Falstaff said...

Aishwarya: Thanks. I'm not so sure if everyone wanting this to be true is so flattering, though. It's a little disturbing when total strangers automatically assume that any relationship you're in must be going badly. The response I would have hoped for was more along the lines of "Oh, come on, Falstaff, that just doesn't work. What woman in her right mind would risk losing you?"

heh: :-). But, of course. Wouldn't everyone? Taste in literature matters. After all, this is someone I'm going to be sharing my bookshelf with.

Cat: Ah, that's what you meant by it not being 'fiction' - yes, agree completely.

As you say, one must play what one can. But I think the problem is a little deeper than that. I think the real question is how one can deliver a realistic account of depression, of mental agony, without the reader's perception of it being at least somewhat tainted by sympathy. Because coming up with such an account is a real aesthetic problem. How much of our fascination with Plath's work comes from our knowledge of the 'reality' of her darkness, her suicide? And yet how poorer would the world be without her descriptions of that landscape of anguish? Clearly there are things that one can do to shift the focus away from the self, to make the work more 'fictional', less 'confessional' (shifting the narrative to the third person, for instance), but I think you're bound to lose some of the aesthetic power of the narrative when you do that. It's a trade-off every writer has to make, I think, though with a truly good writer the prose is transcedental enough to be more than just about sympathy. I'm happy to manipulate other people, using their sympathy to sharpen and focus the impact of my writing. The trouble is that I don't want that to be the only (or even the primary) reason that they like my work (you wouldn't, for instance, seriously claim that Plath is only about sympathy), and it's hard to be secure about that.

There's certainly some truth to the paranoid motive behind writing this piece (and as people who know me in 'real' life will assure you - I actually am that paranoid); but remember that the other big theme of this blog is experimentation. I'm not making a lifetime decision here, I'm just trying out the territory to see if I can handle it.

Aishwarya said...

Oh alright then.

*puts on concerned voice*

But Falstaff, this can't possibly be true! What woman in her right mind would risk losing you?!

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