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Archive for September, 2005

My New Pal

The other day I drew up the blind on one of my windows and jumped a little, because facing me, about eye level, was a hungry-looking reddish-black spider about the size of a silver dollar. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized the spider was on the other side of the glass. It had spun a web in between the ridges of the window frame and so it looked as though it was sitting right in the middle of the pane. Once I got over my initial startlement, I was fascinated, and kept stealing glances at it throughout the day as I worked at my desk next to the window.

That evening, when I started lowering the blind again, the spider got all panicky and started wriggling around as if it was scrambling to hide itself somewhere, in spite of being smack dab in the middle of a transparent web spun onto a transparent window pane. It didn’t realize that it, too, was safe on the other side of the glass and wasn’t going to get crushed or swept away by the blinds.

The next morning it was still there, and hadn’t moved when I got home in the evening. This time, when I lowered the blind, it stayed calm and collected. As the days went by and the spider was there most of the time, I kind of got used to it and even started to feel a certain affection for it. My little spidey buddy.

Now it’s gone! Poor little thing. I hope it just went to visit one of it’s spider pals. Maybe there is a spider happy hour or something tonight!

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This afternoon I was at a street-crossing on my way to the metro to go meet some friends. I was kind of staring off into space, waiting for the light to turn green, when suddenly a woman standing next to me turned to me and said:

“OK, random tidbit from a total stranger …”

I looked around to see if there was anyone else she could possibly be talking to besides me, but there was no one else. She was maybe in her late forties or early fifties, with short frumpy hair and glasses and shorts and was probably wearing Birkenstock sandals – not a glamorous or particularly attractive figure. Basically, she could have been somebody’s mom on the way to pick them up from soccer practice.

She continued: “With internet dating, why is it that it’s the men without the pictures who turn out to be either totally super hot, or extremely talented and interesting?”

Me: Stunned silence. “Ummmmmm …”

Her: “While on the other hand, it’s the guys with the pictures who seem like they’d be handsome and cool who turn out to be jerks and not very pleasant in person. I mean, you’d think this would be a relationship prerequisite, you know, to be pleasant to the person you hope to be in a relationship with. But they don’t seem to get it, and they always ask to see my picture before meeting me.”

Me: Trying wildly to process the information that this random woman who looks like she’s on her way to pick up the kids from soccer practice is suddenly talking to me about internet dating. I grope for a response. “Ummm, maybe you’re just idealizing them too much on the basis of their picture, and so you’re inevitably let down?”

Her: “Oh, interesting. There could be something to that. But you know, I work with facial recognition software on a daily basis, so of course there’s no way I’m going to send my picture out to random people on the internet. And then I’ve had some guys that were into me based on my picture, and then were let down when I turned out to have a head on my shoulders as well. I can only play the bimbo for so long. It’s better if they like me based on my intellect and then see the picture.”

This woman looked about as bimbo-like as Janet Reno.

Then she said she was wondering if she shouldn’t just try to date the rich guys, as there had been several times when she’d had to break up with guys because she lost her job and had to move to another town because the guy she was with couldn’t support her on his salary.

By way of humoring her and making conversation I said: “Well, the rich ones aren’t usually very nice.”

“Oh, really? Do you think that? Hm, maybe you’re right,” she said.

“Well, because often the things you have to do in order to get rich aren’t the things a nice person would do. Like being a lawyer for example – you know the ones in the private firms, you have to work all the time and basically make work your whole life, and yell at people …”

“And the training is all about how to win in every argument.”

“Yeah, exactly, and you have to be super aggressive, and law school – it’s all about being super competitive and being better than other people – you basically have to feel like you’re better than other people to be a good lawyer. And of course DC has the highest percentage of lawyers, basically, in the world,” I continued, warming to my theme.

(In fairness to rich people and to lawyers, I’m sure there are a lot of you who are actually quite nice. But the truth is, in my internet dating experiences I learned to be wary of rich guys and lawyers, because they really did seem to be the biggest jerks most of the time.)

Then she asked me, “So … how do you succeed in this whole crazy business. What’s your advice?”

Of course, my first piece of advice should have been “Don’t take advice from random people on the street,” but that would have been a little self-negating. So I said I thought the key thing was not to get hung up on stupid superficial things (e.g. money or cars or supermodel looks and so on), and to be flexible and patient and forgiving – the main thing was to get your priorities straight and then be patient until you found someone who also had their priorities straight and shared your values.

“Hm,” she said, mulling this over. “Huh. That’s not what a lot of dating advice books say, is it?”

“No,” I laughed. “They mostly say things like: Realize that no one will ever be good enough for you and remind the person you’re dating of this constantly.”

“Hah,” she said. “That’s great. I get the best stuff from random people on the street. I’ll have to remember that … how’d you put it? ‘Realize that no one will ever be good enough for you and remind the person of that constantly.’ Hah.”

Just then we got to the metro station. “Well, good luck,” I said, and we parted ways. I walked on thinking: “I so have to blog about this.”

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Translations

Here are the two poems, anyway, and my translations:

Der Nachbar

Fremde Geige, gehst du mir nach?
In wieviel fernen Städten schon sprach
deine einsame Nacht zu meiner?
Spielen dich hunderte? Spielt dich einer?

Gibt es in allen großen Städten
solche, die sich ohne dich
schon in den Flüßen verloren hätten?
Und warum trifft es immer mich?

Warum bin ich immer der Nachbar derer,
die dich bange zwingen zu singen
und zu sagen: Das Leben ist schwerer
als die Schwere von allen Dingen

The Neighbor

Strange violin, are you following me?
In how many far cities has your solitary night
Spoken already to mine?
Do hundreds play you? Or only one?

Are there in all great cities
Those who without you
Would have lost themselves long ago in the rivers?
And why does it always involve me?

Why I am always neighbor to those
Who fearfully bring you to sing
And to say: Life is heavier
Than the heaviness of all things.

Liebes-Lied

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß
sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
Ach gerne möcht ich sie bei irgendwas
Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
nicht weiterschwingt, wenn deine Tiefen schwingen.
Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
der aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
O süßes Lied.

Love Song

How shall I hold my soul still,
That it does not touch on yours? How raise it
Up above you to other things?
Oh gladly would I bury it away
Somewhere lost and in the darkness
In a strange and silent place
That would not stir when your depths stirred.
But all that touches us, me and you,
Takes us together like the stroke of a bow
That from two strings draws a single tone.
Upon what instrument have we been strung?
And what violinist has us in his hand?
O sweet song.

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Fremde Geige, gehst du mir nach?
In wieviel fernen Städten schon sprach
deine einsame Nacht zu meiner?

(Strange violin, are you following me?
In how many far cities has your solitary night
spoken already to mine?)
– “Der Nachbar”

Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
O süßes Lied.

(Upon what instrument have we been strung?
And what violinist has us in his hand?
O sweet song.)
– “Liebeslied”

Nikita asked this question in the comments the other day. As you probably already guessed from the enigmatic quotes at the top, the title is inspired by two poems of Rilke’s that I like. (For biographical info on Rilke see here.)

The first poem, “The Neighbor,” is basically about a guy leaning out his window and hearing one of his neighbors playing the violin. He’s lived in other cities and had this same experience before of hearing the mysterious violin music drifting over the night sky, and it puts him in a mystical frame of mind. He wonders if it’s always the same violin, or if there are hundreds of violin players in hundred of cities, who always happen to become his neighbor. He thinks about what makes the violinists play their music at night – perhaps this music is the one thing they are still living for, the one thing that keeps them from throwing themselves into a river. The music is their way of getting out of their aloneness and isolation, of going beyond themselves and speaking to the world, and they play songs that express their aloneness and pain.

I think blogging and reading blogs is a little bit like this strange violin music coming in through the poet’s window. I know I started blogging in the beginning in part because I was depressed, and in part because on some level, although I had plenty of friends, maybe I still felt the need for a kind of interlocuter who was different from any of my friends. And even those who write funny blogs or impersonal blogs are trying to get outside of themselves in some way, trying to find interlocutors. And blogging keeps us connected and involved with one another, just as the speaker in the poem feels connected and involved with the mysterious violinist by overhearing him.

In the other poem, “Liebes-lied,” or “Love-song,” the poet writes about how everything that affects the person he loves affects him also, in spite of himself. It’s as though he and this other person are two strings on a violin, and each thing that happens is like a stroke of the bow that draws a single chord out of the two of them. For me, this is the positive complement to the more melancholy poem about the neighbor. In the neighbor poem, the violin is “fremd,” i.e. strange or foreign or unfamiliar. But in the second poem, the violin represents the opposite of this strangeness and unfamiliarity, as it symbolizes a relationship between two people.

Blogging also has a dual aspect, like the dual aspect of the violin in the two poems. On the one hand it’s a way for complete strangers to connect and feel they’re not alone. But on the other hand, it’s also a stage on which relationships play out. Of course, people who know each other in real life read each others’ blogs, too, and the things that happen to one blogger reverberate through other people’s blogs and lives.

I don’t know if I’ve explained very well, but that’s the thinking behind the new blog title. I know it’s all very serious-sounding, but don’t worry, I doubt I’m going to start writing all kinds of serious deep things just because I have a serious deep title.

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