Hungover Mary Birnbaum of the future, I’m writing to you with an urgent message.
You’ve crossed into 2016, while here I sit, planted forever in last year. Once I send this blog to my editor, it will travel away from me like a lover on a train, waving a scarf from an open window as it recedes into steam. Yes, it does seem like an improbably old-timey train, Future Mary, but you’re missing the point.
For you, Mary of January 1, all the kissing and the swaying is over; the champagne is frothed over and the sparklers are just charred sticks. The kazoos have had their wail. The clackers have clacked their last. Everyone is finished mumbling Auld Lang Syne. They’re sleeping off 2015 on a pile of confetti somewhere.
because we live in the language trap, for now let’s call it “unguarded desire.” I want to call your attention to that feeling, which is recent enough that you still may access it.But you are awake, Mary. Good for you! You’re up, reading the Internet, though you’re suffering the pain of a ghastly hangover. The point is this: you know that feeling you had, right before you passed out? It’s hard to name, but because we live in the language trap, for now let’s call it “unguarded desire.” I want to call your attention to that feeling, which is recent enough that you still may access it. Tapping that desire will make you write better this year, Mary. Cleave to it like Aspirin.
Desire is the plot. What did we want, as the actor Stanislavski was known to ask. What have I come on stage for? Or to the page for? For a sandwich? For a pillow? For vengeance or forgiveness? Or have I come looking for love, love, love? The drink washes all obstacles away and desire is transformed into deed. I’m not advocating that you abandon impulse control. I’m suggesting that you examine your unabashed actions.
On a side note, Mary, you should check your phone for drunk texts.
Future Mary, this blog is my time capsule to you. We presume that desire is relevant only insofar as gaining its object, and once the kiss, the job, the banana cream pie is obtained, desire swirls away like smoke from a spent match. The thing is, it was the wanting that mattered, not the pie. The sweet longing, not the sweet. All that drunken flopping is the point—the ecstatic mind playing the body like an instrument.
Longing is what makes us write, not the promise of a perfect essay. A perfect anything always recedes from us.Mary, as you sober up, latch onto that final New Year’s Eve moment when love came easy, when feeling bolted clean through you and made you dance or disrobe or burble a maudlin tune for old time’s sake. The memory is recent and not out of reach; it is as close as your dreams. A drunkard by definition has never had enough drinks. This is the way it should be with writing. It should resist satisfaction or complacency. It should always grab for another swig, lunge further to the dark. Longing is what makes us write, not the promise of a perfect essay. A perfect anything always recedes from us. When we think we have arrived at the goal, we find we have misjudged the distance. I’m sorry about our prospects for ever “finishing” an essay. But there you have it. The beauty’s in the chase.
Future Mary, I know you are filled with self-loathing. Let’s face it. Our track record is not great and sometimes contempt is warranted. Like the time we couldn’t find our way out of an unlocked bathroom for a couple hours. Like the time we flashed our Spanx at everyone at the wedding, right before leaping into the pool. Like the time we wandered off and our sister’s fiancée had to pick us up and carry us back but we were too heavy and we fell into the vegetable garden and we felt terrible for damaging our sister’s fiancée. I could go on. You know I could. I will spare you.
What do they say is the cure for a hangover? Eye of newt? Hair of dog? A spoonful of sugar? We know from experience that these are cruel lies. Let this thought be your balm today: that you sidled up to something powerful. It was your unfiltered mind, full of wanting. Mere hours separate you from those New Year’s Eve minutes, Mary, when you were all energy and yearning. Desire is part of you, drunk or sober, it’s just that when you’re sober you wonder what the view is like from the top of the tree, and when you’re drunk you start climbing.
Climb the tree if you must, Mary! Climb the tree! But do it sober. This is a safer approach. You damage fewer bones and relationships. And remember that the joy was actually in pulling your body between the branches. And we don’t mean to offer getting drunk as a reasonable or sustainable means to tapping one’s secret self. Lots of normal people do yoga. Mary, why don’t we welcome 2016 as the year we finally got on board with yoga.
Forgive us our early drafts… We all know that even clean writing wants revision almost immediately.
I know what you’re thinking. Hey, McFly, time for you and your stupid metaphors to make like a tree and head back to the DeLorean. Because by now you have a better idea for this blog. That’s about how fast we think: two weeks too slow.
(You should write that better idea down immediately, Future Mary. You’ll need it in like six weeks when your editor wants another blog.)
Try not to spend too much time today regretting this topic. Forgive us our early drafts—forgive the writer who tries to write a blog over winter break when everything is cookies, cookies, cookies and crying and “generously” agreeing to sit at the kids’ table at Christmas Eve dinner because you don’t want to have to talk to grown-ups about grown-up things. It’s a blog, headed inexorably down the tracks toward the Internet, but you suspect everyone who reads it will be as forgiving of you as you are of yourself. ‘Tis the season, etc. We all know that even clean writing wants revision almost immediately. The revisions are as infinite as our drunken antics.
You feel hollow and hopeless now, and no number of electrolytes will make you whole. Mary, I want to suggest that all that pain you feel now is the remnant of desire. I’m not saying it isn’t the tequila, but it’s also the body shuddering as ecstasy takes its leave. This is a semi-sadistic entreaty to seize the fleeting feeling that made you throw up your skirt, the moment right before you launched your body into the pool, the urge that made you run off into the night, whatever it was that made you think you could sing.
What was it you wanted? What do we ever want? How does the wanting feel? That itch lives under your skin even now. So write it down.