A former bookstore clerk addresses last week's rather dreamy comment from a 26-year-old reader who said she wanted to quit her job and work in a bookstore where she could sit around and read the day away: "Working in a bookstore is not about sitting around reading and pondering the meaning of life -- it's work! It involves ringing up sales, stocking shelves, unpacking boxes, returning books to publishers, dusting, straightening and helping customers who come in looking for 'that book with the blue cover about that boy who does that thing.' The only thing that separates it from any other retail job is that you get a great discount on books." Darn. Another daydream punctured. But at least we can still dream about buying a farm.
Last week I apologized to a Jewish reader offended by my use of the word "davening" to mean earnest beseeching. She wrote: "Davening is a prayer in synagogue. It is a holy Hebrew word and nothing for you to be bandying about. Don't use words if you don't know what they mean."
A host of readers have rushed in to take her to task. One says: "She doesn't know what she's talking about. The word is Yiddish, not Hebrew. Or rather a Yinglish corruption of 'davenen.'" Another says: "The word is NOT holy. Prayer is an everyday obligation, not limited to the synagogue, and Jews can daven anywhere. What I find antithetical to Judaism is her self-righteousness. She is uninformed and ill-advised." Another said: "You had nothing to apologize for, since you were merely doing with language what has always been done -- participating in its evolution." Several readers said that "davening" means the prayer and "shuckling" is the term for the rocking back and forth, which I had confused with "davening." A gentleman writes: "One must be careful with Yiddish. An elderly Episcopalian once sought to compliment my Jewish mother, expressing his admiration of her zaftig figure. His dictionary defined zaftig as 'soft, yielding flesh' whereas to my mother it meant fat." And finally, from Dallas: "THAT LITTLE LADY IS WAY OFF HER ROCKER! YOUR REMARK ABOUT DAVENEN WAS ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE. ASK ME. I'VE BEEN A JEW FOR OVER 80 YEARS! HAVE A GOOD ONE." My apology stands. But it's heartening to see people rush to take exception and join the fray.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I have been involved with a woman for three years who is truly the love of my life. The road has been rocky, but we've always found a way to persevere. Recently, she visited her sister in Las Vegas for a few weeks, and last week she revealed to me that after a long night of partying, she slept with her sister's neighbor. I understand that people make mistakes, but being that this is the second time she has cheated, I am finding it difficult to forgive her. I have not talked with her since she told me about this incident. When she phones, I don't accept her calls. She leaves messages that she regrets doing what she did, and that she would do anything not to lose us. She's still in Las Vegas, and she still spends time with this guy. Everyone close to me says that it is time to let her go. I feel like a big part of me has died. I am struggling to get through this. My heart does not want to let her go. Under what grounds would it be right to try to make it work? Do I give this relationship one more chance?
When your partner cheats on you, it's up to her to make things right again, and it takes more than a phone call and a simple "I'm sorry." At the very least, she should fly home and tell you face to face what is in her heart. After three years, you're entitled to this and not just a press release. And if you can't bear to speak with her, then you're in the process of letting her go. Here's what you do: Clean your home. Get out the bucket and sponge mop and vacuum and Lysol and get busy purging. Throw out all the effluvia and flotsam and jetsam. Everything you don't care about and don't use. Any clothing you haven't worn in the past year. All the junk in the garage. Clear the decks. And in the course of your labors, you'll figure out what to do about this situation.
Dear Mr. Blue,
For my entire life, I have loved to write, keeping a journal, writing poems, but for the past two years, I just don't feel like writing anymore. I don't want to run around in circles in my head, I don't want to pay so much attention to my life, I just want to live it and enjoy it in the moment. Back when I used to write daily, I was depressed; I have been in treatment for depression for years and it's finally begun to work. I don't know if I feel better because I am not writing as much, or vice versa. Do other writers go through this?
Too Happy to Write
Other writers do go through this. I know a man who wrote poetry for years and then discovered running and found that it made him much happier. Poetry went out the window. I know a woman who was a rising songwriter and wrote about her romantic longings and defeats and then fell in love and married a guy who taught her to ski and play tennis and she got so happy she had nothing to write about. She could've been the next Tori Amos and instead she became Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Happiness has killed off plenty of writers. They produce a work of brilliant anguish and voil`! It sells handsomely, and soon they discover that their anguish wasn't really anguish, it was simply the result of living in a tiny, squalid, cockroach-infested apartment above a biker bar, and now that they're ensconced in a restored 18th century mansion in Westchester and can afford to spend February and March on Antigua, they feel wonderful, so much so that their next three books are duds and soon they must take a job teaching creative writing. Happiness is basically dumb, right? You get happy and you feel like a Holstein on the hillside, chewing, enjoying the sunshine, flicking away the flies. What's to write about? Enjoy it. Someday I'll join you.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I had a torrid three-year affair with a married woman that ended over a year ago. We both knew it was trouble from the start, but we had never felt love like this before and wanted to make it happen no matter what. I was willing to wait as long as it took for her to divorce her husband but then he found out about us. He found a year's worth of our e-mail correspondence on her computer at her office. The last I heard from her was a brief e-mail stating that she could not talk to me ever again. I have not heard from her since.
I knew the risks involved and was willing to take them, but I was devastated by the way she dumped me. After a solid year of severe depression and anger, I am back on my feet I suppose ... but I am completely and utterly cynical when it comes to women and love in general. These days I sneer at people "in love" and feel totally incapable of loving again. I trust no one. Any ideas?
Dear Dead Heart,
Give romance a rest and turn your attention to making pots of money. Anyone can use more loot and the pursuit of it is a good way to drown your sorrows. Dress for success. Network. Learn to fawn and truckle. Ask advice of your colleagues, especially the dumb ones, and listen to their idiot babble and thank them for it profusely. Write lots of thank-you notes. Inch your way up the greasy pole. Learn how to gamble with other people's money, so they take the risk and you get the profit. And then, when you're a multimillionaire and utterly cynical about the world of business, you will yearn for the elixir of romance again. The dim light, the touch of her hand, the piano music, the scent of her hair. But make sure she's a single woman. Much much easier on everyone.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Yes, I know I have to end it. The affair has been going on nearly a year now. When I'm not with him, when I don't hear from him, I'm in a constant state of confusion, suspicion, loneliness, despair. I don't envy his wife, because I'm sure I'm not his only dalliance. He is considerate and affectionate and caring when we are together, but this isn't making me happy anymore. I feel like a drug addict, and am experiencing physical symptoms of withdrawal -- stomach cramps, sleeplessness, the jitters. I am afraid to consult a therapist, because of the inevitability of being made to feel ashamed. I have a life outside of this relationship, but it doesn't make up for the overwhelming and at once exhilarating and devastating emotions he stirs in me. How on earth am I going to get through this?
Killing me Softly
You're right, you have to end it, and you're right about it being an addiction, and you're right that it'll be hard. You're wrong about the inevitability of a therapist making you feel ashamed. But three out of four ain't bad. I say, pick a day -- next Saturday -- and that's the day Mr. Man's car is sideswiped by a truck en route to the junkyard and he's killed instantly in a shower of sparks, and you sit and imagine the whole thing, and then you write his obituary. His accomplishments, his good qualities, his survivors (of which you are not one). You keep this obituary in a drawer where you can check it occasionally. Mistah Man, he dead. And that's all she wrote. It's hard, but there it is, he's gone. His sweet body crushed by 10 tons of scrap metal. You'll miss him, but there's no bringing him back from the grave. Don't hesitate to ask for help -- from a therapist, a friend, your mother, whoever is available -- but do kill this guy off. The pain is less if you take a good run at the addiction and burst through than if you keep banging your head against it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
What do you do with the shards and remnants of old love? The man I thought I was destined to be with dumped me after 10 years of a mostly happy but also tortured and exhausting relationship. I was 17 when we first fell in love and he was 15 years older; he was my best friend, my lover, my reason for living. But I put the Mr. Blue Break-up Drill into action -- took up daily, strenuous exercise, ate lightly, learned a new musical instrument, etc -- and moved away. In the two years since, I've created a full and happy life without him, and I wouldn't return to him for anything. I've fallen in love with an incredible man with whom I have a solid, untortured, sweet, fulfilling and just plain fun relationship, and we are talking seriously of marriage. But I find myself still occasionally pining for the old love and mourning the loss of him in my life. I miss him. So what am I supposed to do with this? How do I accommodate the sorrow that it brings? It's not debilitating, but surprisingly strong sometimes. Can you be imprinted in love at an early age (like geese with mothers) and never quite recover? After two years and finding someone else I'd much rather share my life with, should I still be feeling this way? Is this how it works, and I should just feel the sorrow and go on?
Stuck in the Past
The past doesn't go away. It keeps calling to us from the woods, and at vulnerable moments, at twilight on a fall day with a Chopin itude playing, it can be almost overwhelming. Those old voices weeping and whispering. I have my ghosts and you have yours. Tell me about it. Meanwhile, the day passes, we eat dinner, we put the dishes in the dishwasher, we clean up the kitchen, we pick up a book, life goes on. I believe that
All of the lovers and the love they made --
Nothing that was between them was a mistake.
All that we did for love's sake
Was not wasted and will never fade.
A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago: "You can't regret all of the things you went through in order to get to the happiness where you are now." The old love prepared you for this new one. The tortured and exhausting 10 years with him is a crucial part of your education and can't be separated from the rest and burned. It's quite reasonable to still miss him after only two years. You're not imprinted with him, though, and you know that. You've moved on. You're only enjoying a little sweet sadness. What would an autumn night be like without it? What an inhuman life a person must lead to never experience such feelings.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My boyfriend and I have been together for seven years. (I am 30 and he is 33.) He is a wonderful man and I love him deeply. But he says he doesn't want children, and I am quite sure I do. We would be married by now if we could resolve this issue. What should I do? All my friends tell me that he will eventually change his mind, but I feel like time is running out. I don't want to be 35 and starting over. At the same time, I cannot imagine my life without him. I am at a loss as to his reasoning. He comes from a wonderful, loving family, his parents are happily married, we are financially secure. All he can say is that he likes his life the way it is right now. Should I stick it out for a while longer, or should I call it quits?
Lady in Waiting
I shouldn't try to answer this question; it's way beyond my ability, so read my answer and ignore it and do what you're going to do. My answer is: Marriage and children are separate propositions, not a package deal. If he is the man you want to make a life with -- and after seven years you should know -- then marry him, for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, for children or no children, and hope for the best. If he's a wonderful man and you love him deeply and you can't imagine life without him, then no decent person could tell you to call it quits. People marry and then discover that they're unable to conceive children, or they have children who have serious disabilities and the family goes down a long hard road of coping, or other unforeseen things happen, but if there's a good solid marriage between two sensible people, they can deal with almost anything, I believe. An older woman friend of mine, reading your letter, says simply, "When did men ever know what they want? The guy needs leadership. Stop using the pills. Keep a box of old condoms by the bed. He'll get tired of fooling around with them. She'll be pregnant in three months. He'll be the happiest guy in the world. What's the problem?" I didn't say it, she did.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I've just started college and was planning to study, get into some activities and make some friends. However, there's this guy in class who wants to be my boyfriend. He's a very nice guy and we have a lot in common, but I don't want to date him. He's four years older than I am, and he really doesn't seem to like college at all. Am I right in wanting to establish myself at college before getting into a relationship with someone?
You're absolutely right. You couldn't be righter. This guy is a snag in the river of life. Steer clear. When in doubt, say no thank you.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I grew up in Minnesota and after college, I found myself sick, sick, sick of dark winters, Midwestern blandness and everyone being nice, so one day I stamped the snow off my moon boots and moved to California, with husband in tow. California is an enchanting, beautiful state, if you can escape the people. But recently, it has started to lose its luster, and I find myself dreaming of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. What wouldn't I give to walk around the lakes on a warm, summer evening? To watch the snow fall on a February morning? To put on a sweat shirt and drink hot coffee? To go Up North once a year and spend a week paddling the wilderness? Is there something special about Minnesota? Should this itch be scratched?
If our blandness and niceness disgusted you, believe me, we solved the problem. Salsa usage is up, garlic, irony, the works. Rush hour is ferocious, people cutting you off, honking, raging, flipping you the bird -- and that's just the women drivers: The men are borderline psychotic. We have gangs in the Twin Cities, drive-by shootings, talk radio hosted by hateful aging white guys, the works. We elected a 400-pound 13-year-old to the governorship and he swaggers and throws fits and sulks and insults people and makes money hand over fist in blatant disregard of ethics and has an approval rating up in the 80s. So Minnesota is trying to remake itself into an in-your-face state, the New Jersey of the Midwest. But it still snows beautifully. And the summer nights are lovely. The coffee is good. Up North is good. Heck, St. Paul is darned good. I wouldn't live anywhere else. I have a little girl who loves her school and her relatives, especially her Aunt Kay, and there isn't an Aunt Kay in California, so that's out. But should you return? I doubt it. The sort of summer evening that we get about 36 of per year you have 254 of in California. There's wilderness to be paddled up around Eureka. Snow falls in the Sierra. Coffee you've got. We can send you the sweat shirt.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I've just (finally) finished Vol. 1 of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," and I can't decide whether to commit myself to the remaining two volumes. I was impressed by the book, but, my God, it's such an enormous task to read all about his genealogy and his mother. Should I slog on?
I didn't realize it was about his mother. I thought it was about the time he spent temping at Purdue. In any case, I think you must keep going (aren't there seven volumes?) and finish the job, otherwise your life will start to unravel and you will wind up a whingeing neurotic in a cork-lined room. Get busy. Did Columbus stop at the Canary Islands? Did Edison retire after he'd invented the incandescent bulb? Did Eisenhower stop the Allied advance once he'd captured Normandy? Did Regis Philbin rest on his laurels with "Regis and Kathy Lee"? Was Starbucks content to be a Seattle coffee shop? America wasn't made by quitters, son. Keep your nose in that book until it's done.