In retelling an adventure I just had in Paris with my brilliant friend Michael Braverman, he shared with me his own personal encounter. Now our tales were not similar but it opened up a conversation about understanding ourselves as well as another’s difference.
Michael and I met a over decade ago in Los Angeles back when I worked in the film industry and ever since my 25th year, from time to time, we reunite, with tales old and new. On paper he’s a TV producer, but don’t let that put you off. His mind is one of the brightest I know. In dialogue I might give him a topic, he’ll give me a concordance and bibliography of every book ever written on that subject. Yes it’s terrifying for my soul in every conversation to be faced with such wisdom, but he inspires me to explore outside of my own experiences or even opinions. Those friends are a necessity.
The piece below, was spoken at a reading given by Michael, in LA. He sent it to me saying ‘You might get a kick out of someone else’s Paris misadventure.’
I loved it so much, I had to share it with you. Enjoy xx
Before we talked about relationships, we talked about love. Poets
swooned about love, painters imagined what it looked like, musicians
wrote symphonies in its honor. Now, it’s all about these things called
relationships, and there’s a zillion kinds to choose from. There are
traditional and non-traditional relationships, co-dependent,
independent, open, long-distance, pan-sexual, platonic, toxic,
empowering, geographically desirable, and geographically undesirable;
they can be open, closed, committed, in transition, inter-faith,
polymorphous, polyamorous, healing, dysfunctional, intimate,
triangulated, and finally, the most baffling relationship of all…also
known as The One You’re In Right Now.
This sampling of different relationships – relationshopping, if I may coin
a word – is a byproduct of affluence and safety. If the stores ever run out
of food, in three days we’ll be cutting each other’s throats for half a Mars
Bar. At that point, just like it was for our ancestors, life becomes very
simple. Honey, I’d like to discuss our relationship, but at the moment, a
pack of wolves is trying to eat my face. Daily existence becomes about
feeding yourself and your loved ones. And, figuring out how not to be
hacked to death by the guy in the next cave, who’s probably hungrier
than you. But, at this time in history, most of us have roofs over our
heads and calories in our stomachs. The Mongols, Visigoths, and Huns
are long gone. The chance of being eaten by a ravenous beast is about
the same as cashing a Powerball ticket. Its not the black plague we have
to worry about, it’s the black mood.
Because all this security and leisure gives us time to think about stuff. I
don’t know if we think too much or too little, but there is a phenomenon
that shrinks call the intimacy paradox. Which is exactly what it sounds
like. It’s the odd circumstance that, the closer you are to someone, the
less intimate you become. I’ve experienced this strange condition
myself. I’d been very close to someone, and she to me, but we both had
the same nagging suspicion that we were losing each other. One evening
at dinner, she said, “I miss you.” I said, “But I’m right here, right next to you.” And she, smiling her diamond hard smile, said, “I’m not talking
about where you are, I’m talking about…where are you?”
The truth is, the person with whom I shared the intimacy paradox, we
had trouble communicating. I did learn some things along the way. I
learned that when you say to a person of the female gender, “this wall is
white”, and the person of that gender has a bone to pick with you, trust
me, that wall will never, ever be white. What happened to us certainly
isn’t uncommon. We picked at each other, got under each other’s skin,
and the more we knew about each other, it ironically became harder to
find the safe ground. So the fights became worse, 12 rounds of
emotional violence, brutal disdain, joyless detentes and silent curses,
until, finally, darkness rose up and engulfed us both.
But, yeah – sometimes I still miss her. Catullus, the Roman poet of
affection and pleasure wrote, “I hate and I love. How can I do that, you
might ask? I do not know. But that is what I feel and this is torture.” So I
ask myself: what do I miss, exactly? If not the conflict, the drama, the
sturm und drang, the ice in the veins, the lump in the stomach like a
chunk of emotional concrete…if not this, what then? One theory is, we
miss the thing that completes us, the thing that we don’t have. Another
theory says, we miss the self that we project onto the other person,
because we are all narcissists whose interest in others is directly
proportional to the degree they provide a reflection of us. I hope that’s
not true. Because if that’s all there is to the whole thing, I might as well
pluck out my eyes and wander the earth blind. It could be kind of cool.
I’d meet people along the way, listen to their problems, and offer advice
in gnomic riddles that they wouldn’t understand and would ignore
anyway. In other words, I’d be exactly like any therapist on Ventura
When that relationship – the traditional, non-traditional, slightly co-
dependent, intermittently toxic, dysfunctional, and intimate one I’m
speaking of – ended, I found myself in Paris. It was my first time.
Dazzled by everything Paris is, I walked up and down the Champs
Elysee for hours. I saw lovers strolling arm-in- arm, couples in cafes
chain-smoking Gitanes – the whole panoply of public love that you only
notice when you don’t have it. In my head was the Cole Porter lyric –
“until you’ve loved and lost, you’ll never understand Paris”. I had the romantic idea of drinking heavily, and ending the night with a majestic
hurl on Jim Morrison’s grave. So I went into a bar, and in a scene straight
out of a Mr. Bean comedy, I walked right into a hooker’s colossal
decolletage. The lady had a magnificent pile of cochineal red hair,
uncanny green eyes, and extremely threatening makeup. Oddly enough,
she was also missing a shoe. But she spoke English, so I bought her a
drink and we chatted. There was an aura about her, she knew a lot
about men and women – and yes, about relationships. Several whiskeys
later, we were leaning on each other in the street. Just as I was about to
fall headfirst into a scenic French gutter, I decided to confess everything.
I told her that I was a hollow man, a pathetic flop, lower than the lowest
creature on earth (which, incidentally, is an amoeba that lives in whale
turd at the bottom of the ocean; we’re talking low) I had lost the one
chance at happiness the universe had seen fit to provide. I waited for
this magical lady to impart some wisdom, some profundity that would
change my life forever. Instead, she took off the other shoe, and
whacked me on the head with it. Stupid man, she hissed, you are stupid
now, and you will always be stupid. With that, she shoved the
weaponized footwear in her purse, and padded away down the Champs.
Back in the states, I was left to ponder my fate. Nothing was clear. I still
couldn’t figure out why I missed my traditional, non-traditional, slightly
co-dependent, intermittently toxic, dysfunctional, and intimate
relationship so much. It wasn’t just loneliness. I had had other losses
that didn’t cut nearly so deep. But at the same time, I knew we were
impossible; we could barely stand each other. So what the hell. Why
wasn’t I thrilled this nightmare was over?
For guidance, I turned to books about doomed lovers. Victor Hugo’s
great character, Quasimodo, loves Esmeralda with such passion, he lies
down with her corpse until he himself dies of starvation. That’s a choice.
Goethe’s “Sorrows of Young Werther” describes a man besotted with an
unobtainable woman. He’s too sensitive to deal with the pain, so he
shoots himself. Trite, but effective.
Then there’s the Ur-text of lovers who can’t stand each other, Edward
Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. At one point in the play,
Martha declares what she likes best about George. It’s his anger.
So if I asked you – what did you love in someone who is gone, what
would you answer? Are there words to label your feelings?
Because, let’s be honest. We all miss somebody. We long for them, pine
for them, our souls ache for them. We dream crazy little dreams about
them, no matter how crazy the reality actually was. I used to imagine
what I’d say, if she happened after all these years, to ring my doorbell
If I think hard on it, its not that I still miss her. I mean, I do, of course.
What I think I mean is, I missed her. Like, when you drive right past the
street you’re supposed to turn on. Or you missed a sensational sunset
because you were texting. Or you walked right past something beautiful,
or shocking, and didn’t even notice. You missed it. I think that’s what the
Parisian hooker was talking about. Stupidity, sometimes, is just plain old
willful blindness. There are a lot of people I miss, and a lot of people I
missed. I just didn’t see them. So that person from my long ago
traditional, non-traditional, dysfunctional – you get it – that one, nope, I
don’t really miss her anymore. But I would like to see her again, just
once, now with my eyes open. Maybe I’d better understand who she
was, and who she has become. Hopefully, I wouldn’t get hit with a shoe,
and we’d part friends. That is a relationship I’d like to have.
– Michael Braverman