(You Can't Tell Me There's) Only One Way to Live--Defending My Personality in 365 Aphorisms

The aphorism is a flash of lightning to the brain. The poem is a gradual ray of light brightening at dawn. The story is following a flashlight in the dark down twisting forest paths to a small clearing in the woods where a campfire has been laid. Now you must bring out the matches and keep the fire going while the story continues, while you add your side of the story.

These are some of my thoughts that have lasted long enough to be articulated, once, twice, three times. Worded, reworded, polished. Then pronounced. But like all thoughts they too finally subside. Whether you inadvertently kick a rough piece of gravel into a puddle or gently place a cut gem on a velvet pillow, both will end up at the bottom of the sea in the end.

When I say you, I mean me. When I say women, I mean me. When I say men, I mean R. except when I mean J. When I say sometimes, I mean always--because I have been told never to say always.

Every time I write an aphorism, I am sorry. Not sorry I thought it, or wrote it, but that I feel the need to inflict it on other people.


I said grandiosity and he heard pompous; I said pettiosity and he heard humble. Then he was disconcerted by his perception of my grandiose feelings of humility.

He had finally settled it in his mind: there was only one rule for living. Then she said, You know what it is, don't you? He panicked anew that his one rule was perhaps not the right one. He would be found out once again as the clueless jellyfish he'd always been afraid of being.

He threw caution to the winds and blurted, Follow the music?

That's your rule, she said.

He cringed, caught again.

The one rule is find your own rule. Congratulations, she said.

There is no night. Whatever the sun abandons one day, it rediscovers the next. Even when no one is looking at you, you still exist. This can be a horror, a tragedy even, or it can be the necessary bedrock of the decision to create meaning in our lives, for our lives.

All that time I spend searching for the correct word, the correct phrase--obliterated by the fiery glance from its recipient.

I thought it was unconditional love. I found out that it wasn't when the conditions changed.

I think now that the depth of her perception, the one I gave her credit for, the one I thought I learned from her, was in fact mine, reflected back into her person from my own view of her.

I can not imagine a greater triumph than the life I already possess. Therefore all the striving I see around me looks pointless. The strivers I forgive, because I can not blame them for not having what feels like only luck has brought me. But I do not love the strivers enough to join them in their striving.

If you read for what happened, read the newspaper. If you'd prefer to know why, read novels.

I have all my life preferred not to tell people what happened to me, because I knew their reaction would follow a certain vector that would change my experience into black tragedy. But that was not how it felt to me.

I study my own behavior in order to understand others; understanding others allows me to know myself better. Speaking my true feelings and thoughts has led to some of the best discoveries of my life. Hiding them has led to a dark and despairing place and I won't go back there.

Women are not better than men. They are socialized to put others' needs before their own and many times they do, until they can't do that any more and then there is no satisfying them. A taken-for-granted middle-aged woman is a dervish of insatiable need.

I can not be counted on to perform my part in the ongoing drama of my own life. I'm too unconvincing. I can't ever remember my own lines, even though I wrote them, I thought them, I spoke them.

He thought women were better than men; they had to be. She thought his problem was that he was counting on them to be better than he was, it saved him a lot of hard work. He could put them in charge of morality, goodness, childcare, nutrition. He could save up his energy for strategic battles with colleagues, fantasy football, joke retention, girl-watching.

Every day he reimagined the cathedrals he would build; every day she made one brick. Guess who finished the shithouse first?

She couldn't decide: was her persona too bracing a presence to put up with for very long--two quick slaps of Aqua Velva could be good on occasion, but a lifetime supply as either bathwater or beverage would be too, too much of something that was definitely optional--or maybe she was just a bitch? So she went back and forth. It was them. No, it was her, all her, always had been. Then she'd drop it for a while and just go on.

She couldn't believe that people actually believed in a coherent narrative arc to their own lives, one in which if they only knew which strand, which subplot was going to turn out to be the main one, they could finally put their efforts to most use. Which woman was the right woman, which job was the right job, which house was the best set for the movie of their life, which car sent the exact message they wanted to send to other people about who they were on the inside. Gas mileage and moral seriousness of the Prius, or creamy leather seats and the opportunity to offer passengers a warmed bucket seat in the Lexus? Time is ticking down, people. Decide already. These movies rarely go over two hours.

It's only liars who believe everybody lies. You know that game Two Truths and One Lie? I like to play that game by giving three truths. Stumps 'em every time.

I have no more ambition for these strings of letters than that someone lying in bed reading them will snort in recognition or debased fellow feeling.

That men don't understand them, many women can countenance. That I refuse to understand them makes me the very devil.

Minnesota macho: contempt for those who actually dress appropriately for our extreme weather. The pansies.

She encouraged me to do crossword puzzles. Keeps the mind active and exercised, she said, wards off Alzheimer's. Sorry, I thought, I'm too busy wondering how and why she believed I required that exercise. I was halfway to furious when I remembered that all advice tendered to others is meant for some younger version of the self. Herself.

The writer in me is perfectly aware of how in the interstices between these aphorisms conclusions will be drawn about the writer, her relationship to her husband (she's married ? Who'd marry her? Good question.) her mother, her so-called friends you the reader are oh-so-happy not to have to count yourself among. But I have found to my infinite regret that it matters very little what I say. Those conclusions are erroneously drawn anyway. So I may as well out with it.

The exploder of truisms does a job most people don't want done and the few who do don't need someone else to do it for them. So applications are never accepted.

Her husband said: Aphorism and euphemism don't mix.

This is my brain on language. Drug of choice: English.

Look, I thought it was funny, in a kind of Woody Allen self-deprecating absurdist way, but the looks on their faces, so horror-stricken, let me know that if it had happened to them, they would have been mortified. Quit feeling my pain and laugh, damn it!

She could not believe they believed this stuff.

I am a cultural abstainer. I am outside every culture I visit, even the one I was born in. But I feel at home everywhere.

If men do not like my brain, I do not have sufficiently alluring physical attributes to make them look twice. At twenty, this felt criminally unfair. At my present age, it's finally begun to seem like money in the bank.

He goes around telling everyone how wise I am. What a buzz kill. Why can't he tell them how hot I look with my clothes off? Not that it matters anymore. Not taking my clothes off for anyone else anyway.

He tells his colleagues at work how wise he thinks I am and one of them says, Dude, she's not in the room. You don't have to say that here. He reports this to me. We laugh.

For about a month there, I had the naturally occurring cleavage of Anna Magnani. It was nice. Then I got more heavily pregnant and the cleavage was trumped by belly. Again. Back to normal.

I made the mistake (or was it?) of telling him he was as easy to read as a simple old dog. Warm bed, warm bath, good food, a good scratch of the pate every night. He said, True enough. You realize what that makes you? What? I said. A complicated old bitch, he said fondly. Closer to the left ear. Ahh, that's it.

Nothing new to say, no one new to say it to, only the same old, same old, repeating it all over again. This must be what death feels like.

I have no idea how to phrase things to make you understand them the way I mean them. If I say them as they occur to me in my real voice, I see that I'm hurting you. When you say things in your real voice, you would hurt me too--if I were the protist with an eyespot that you seem to be.

He can't be happy here, can't leave here. Suffering from an intelligence deficit. Not his. The inability of this place to hold the conversation partners he needs. So he's bored and finally contemptuous of his fellows.

I am perfectly aware that the stage of operations for the stories I'd like to tell is about 6 by 6 by 4. Inches that is. Ten pounds in weight and vast in every other dimension. My stories take place in people's minds. Other venues are beside the point.

Nothing appears to be more damaging than showing my writing to the wrong people. The ones who believe that somehow I'm using my writing, my intelligence (such as it is), to rub their noses in their own ignorance. Yeah, right. That's why I'm living as I live, writing as I write, thinking as I think. To stick it to you. And you are wallowing in that mental insecurity just to get my goat. Yup.

Writers' group blues: their praise is now worse than their censure.

An aphorism is a complete description of one photon of emotion. An emoton, if you will.

Yes, I know. These aphorisms are much worse than those things your grandma used to shout from the back porch: "Get away out of there now! You'll put an eye out!" Just as true and just as worthless in the moment.

She taught her children to be skeptical, then wondered why they second-guessed her.

Intelligence is just a shorthand, a one-word code for a whole constellation of tools, abilities, observations, memory use, wanting to take the time to think things through.

Why am I so sure my behavior is good, I know how to live, but that my writing is bad? People don't understand my behavior any better than my writing. So why do I think one is good, the other bad?

Whining: how the id speaks when no one listens.

I'm writing to please myself, because I won't be able to please you no matter how I write, so why bother?

He said, I have a question for you about your conscience.

She said, I have a conscience?

He said, Maybe not.

Why isn't ignorance as suspect as intelligence?

There is nothing more unlikely to them than the notion that she might be telling them directly how she feels.

How long can you live unloved before you become unlovable?

When did it become better to play a good man on TV than to be a good man?

All I can say is my human nature must be of a different species than her human nature.

Why should outrageous comments from sentimentalists have to go by unchecked by rationalists, just because their feelings will be hurt? What about my outraged reason?

I spoke to a woman who invited Tibetan refugees into her home as evidence of her good heart and devotion to Buddhism. When she found out the husband beat the wife, she was appalled. She had accorded them a superhumanity due to being Buddhist and downtrodden and politically repressed that their reality couldn't support.

She spent two years in the Peace Corps appalled at the Kurds' extreme poverty. The villagers were appalled at her extreme wastefulness and her need to shave her legs.

He had a trick of asking unwitting fellow customers one innocent question as he was leaving and then spinning that into a personal historical tirade of immense length and subtlety. Any attempt to put in one's own comment, a drop in the flood, so to speak, was taken as encouragement to continue. He could not be curtailed by the normal taper-off markers. Only a complete break, like getting up and walking away could stop his logorrhea.

Even the slightest pressure now squeezes an outrageous, true, funny, sad opinion from me. I wish they could be transcribed by another, a Boswell to my Johnson, so I didn't have to ruin my reputation for modesty by telling tales on myself.

You have handed your happiness to another. Why are you now surprised that he is not taking care of it as you would? You don't want to responsible for his happiness, but you want him to step up and do right by you--first. How could this equation ever balance?

Real children are subversive. They ask hard questions and expect truthful answers. Fake cynical wise-cracking TV sit-com children make the teenagers dressed in adult-skin suits complacent. They don't need adult guidance or examples of how to behave in less than ideal circumstances. They already know how the new culture works better than their parents do. They feel sorry for their clueless parents. They're sure they won't make the same bad compromises, the same weak faltering steps toward mere survival. They'll goose step off the cliff with brio.

Some people achieve their humility by placing themselves below the feet of some hero or icon of theirs. But perhaps that is a false humility. They believe worshipping the other a necessary punishment for their own sins of pride and grandiosity. I take the opposite tack. I regularly believe myself to be a genius for about ten minutes each day and then the rest of the time suffer the same blows and humiliations all of us are prey to. Geniuses appear to have the same problems as everyone else.

I went to my high school reunion and discovered the first boy I'd ever kissed was dead. At my college reunion, I found out my first serious boyfriend was dead. I refused to take responsibility for this turn of events, or even to read any kind of meaning into it. Neither of them had had any way of knowing they were firsts for me, so it is a pointless bit of trivia, not a meaningful predictive category. At most it shows that I was such a fierce and fearless character in my youth that only guys with serious thrill-seeking personalities dared come near me.

I would just think aloud. I do. But someone always says, "You should write that down," and that's where the difficulty begins.

Those times when for some reason the thick rubber coat of self was stripped off and I seemed to feel all the world's woes as my own--what a horror of sensibility. With what relief I donned the thick rubber coat again.

The aphorism appears to require bald statement. So I rewrite all my questions in this form.