A month or so ago, I got a Facebook friend request from someone named Dan Zevin.  I’d never heard of him before, and we did not seem to have many friends in common.  But since I view my Facebook page as the 10-watt red lightbulb in a vast virtual De Wallen in whose dim scarlet glow I shamelessly pimp my  wares—and since Dan appeared to be a “Daddy Lit” writer and not a pedophile—I accepted his request, and promptly forgot all about him.

Some time later, this message appeared in my Facebook inbox:

My common law stepdaughter decided she too wants to be a writer and I can’t help but feel a little proud, like it’s because of me. This nice and very human feeling is quickly overshadowed by jealousy; what if she ends up being better than me? What if she makes it and I don’t? Yes, I have professional jealousy of an eleven year old. That’s pretty pathological.

I’m typically jealous of everyone everywhere at all times. This probably stems from insecurity. I’ve occupied about every position on the social stratosphere as you can imagine; I’ve been sought after, ostracized, ridiculed, praised, told I was beautiful, assured I was ugly. I was approached by two drunken men one evening. The first declared I was pretty, one of the prettiest girls he’d even seen, while the other was less than impressed with me. It’s telling that I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was basically the polar opposite of his buddy’s heady acclaim. 

Now what would you make of that? I mean, how do you process that information? Does one cancel out the other? Are they both right? The opinions of strangers mean less and less as I get older, but still that anecdote is a pretty good summation of my life. One part praise plus one part ridicule. Earning your begrudging respect one word at a time, if at all. It’s a constant uphill climb and I am a lazy asshole.

It’s a cliché but people really do either love me or hate me. There is no middle ground. I’ve had people (parents, teachers, peers, etc.) hate me on sight, and many of the people I’ve counted as friends confided that before we became close they too hated me. I take this as a source of pride. Anyone can be pleasant and kind and have people like them. To take someone with genuine ill feelings towards you and bring them around seems like an accomplishment I didn’t think I was capable of. But it’s also a bit depressing. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not all that likable and charm is far out of my realm of capability.

After reading Hitch 22 I decided to take the Proust Questionnaire (which you should take as well: http://hoelder1in.org/Proust/fill_questionnaire.html ). The second to last question asked my current state of mind and I wrote ambivalent. After thinking it over I decided I’m in a constant state of ambivalence. I’m in love with the world and hate it miserably. I think humanity is awesome and grotesque. I think I am the worst person in the world while also believing that I’m better than everyone else. Is this inability to choose an indicator of severe mental illness or a healthy way to cope with an ever changing, fluid life? I’d have to say it’s both.

I’m the opposite of a hoarder. I give or throw away things a bit too easily. A favorite skirt and T-shirt among bags of donations, my wedding ring with a pile of junky jewelery, expensive pieces of furniture. While a hoarder avoids a decision about an item by keeping it, I avoid the decision by giving it away.

Not so with stories.

* * *

I paid a long visit to Bittertown this winter.

In his memoir, Half a Life, Darin Strauss describes the treatment for Complicated Grief Disorder:

[T]herapists force patients to relive the details of the death, making them repeat the minutiae of their pain into a tape recorder in front of an analyst. The patient then replays this tape – this doting agony chronicle – at home every day. . . .It’s not about making the tape, or listening to the tape. It’s about possession, about having the story in one place. “The goal is to show that grief, like the tape, can be picked up and put away,” [a New York Times article] said.

It’s a little like Buddhism (at least according to the very little I know). Imagine your grief is your hand; trying to smash it down expends effort; moving it is easier; it’s part of you but you can control it. But whereas in Buddhism, you’d release your grief and leave it behind you – your hand would become once again, just your hand – putting away that tape means keeping that tape. Keeping your grief. For writers, Strauss says, our books are our tapes.

No wonder being a writer is one of the most depressing jobs in America.

* * *

In 2004, my husband had an affair. Had an affair and got the woman pregnant. Just like John Edwards. I haven’t written too much about it here. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I blab all about it elsewhere on the internet, or maybe because now, more than a year after I’ve started writing TNB, I feel like I know people here. And for me it’s always been harder to tell difficult things to people I know than to faceless strangers.

Anyway, so this is what my memoir is about. This and our whole relationship. Twelve years. A full Chinese zodiac cycle.

At the time of Joe’s affair, I could only write fragments in my journal:

July 3, 2004: Joe did the most terrible thing. I don’t know what to do.

July 8, 2004: Didn’t sleep again.

July 11, 2004: Felt better this morning but now I feel awful again.

Six months later, I could only write about it in third person.  It was only about a year later, after I finally decided to leave, that I could write about it fully, from my own point of view.

* * *

“This can’t be good for you,” a guy I dated for a (very) short time once said of my memoir writing.

I shrugged, but inside, resented his comment.  One, I wasn’t some delicate flower who could be undone by the mere act of writing. And two, I wasn’t the one who still cried when talking about my breakup, who was so anxious to be friends with my ex that I fell into a depression when an outing soured. I cried enough while it was happening, and I had no desire to be friends with my ex. I didn’t need to prove that I was over him or that I was “grown up.”

In fact, I needed to be far away enough from what happened in order to write about it well.  To see my life as a story and myself as a character.  I needed the grief to be outside instead of in.  My hand, you could say, instead of my heart.

But while I certainly haven’t fallen apart while writing (and revising and rewriting) my memoir, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring up those old feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Paying a visit to Bittertown.  Even after you leave, you still smell like it.

* * *

This winter I rewrote my memoir again, taking advantage of NaNoWriMo (and part of December) to flesh out the parts of the book that I had rushed over, and I was surprised to find that unlike with revising, as I rewrote I was plunged deep back into my past life, even more so, it seemed, than the first time I wrote about it.

I was 21 again and falling in love. I was in China. I was with someone for whom nothing was good enough. My parents were worried. I was hiding something terrible from them.

Even after I stopped writing, my head was still back there.  I started to think my boyfriend Alex was like my ex (he’s not). I wanted to go to China again. I was furious again at my brother-in-law’s fiancee for telling me I should wear more makeup, for thanking me like a servant for helping my own ailing mother-in-law, for getting the bigger engagement ring, for snubbing my parents at a party because they were merely Chinese and not Korean.

When I talked to my mom, I worried that she was worried, and was surprised to find that she wasn’t, that she sounded happy, and I remembered that I was no longer with someone she hated.

For some reason, that same rage and hatred towards my ex and his mistress didn’t come up again. Maybe because my anger and hurt were so intense at the time that when it was all over, I had nothing left. Or rather, I simply couldn’t continue living with that rage, if I wanted to survive.

As for the other sections, why was this time different? Maybe because I’m in a relationship now. (My crazy is less obvious when I’ve no one to bounce it off of.) Maybe because those conflicts were never resolved. I never told my ex I felt nothing I did was good enough though I did let loose my fury at his betrayal. I never got into it with my brother-in-law’s wife the way I did with the mistress – calling and hanging up several nights a week, screaming messages on her machine, and one live phone call (Me: “Did you keep the baby?” Her: “Yes.”).

Maybe because it’s been a while since I looked this closely at the memoir. Maybe because in rewriting an already finished thing, I’m fiddling with something already alive. A jiggly green alien blob if you will, that out of nowhere scurries up the stick I’m poking it with, over my arm, and onto my face.

I’m glad to say that as I finished each section, I was able to shake the resentment blob. I booted 21-year old me to the curb. I quickly lost the desire to return to China (in fact I dreamed that I got a teaching job with the same school, then realized I really didn’t want to go back), and couldn’t care less about the woman who was my sister-in-law for a mere two years.

* * *

But remnants of the bitterness remained.

Or I’d like to think so. I’d like to think I can blame the rewriting of the memoir, the whole reliving the past process.

Because I got jealous. Over some woman. Who I don’t even know.

A writer. A successful writer. A successful writer who, quote, oh my god, never wrote before! and was a lawyer for 10 years! and decided one day, what the heck! she was gonna write a best-selling novel! and guess what! three months later she had an agent! and a well-accepted novel that’s making all the top 10 year end lists! and who is Chinese American! and lives in San Francisco! and is not me!

HOORAY!

Yeah.

Bittertown: I’m baaaaaack.

And eating chocolate cake. In my pajamas. Followed by Doritos.

I know I shouldn’t care what other writers are doing, beyond work that inspires me. I know I should just read this author and be inspired by her work, her story. Or I should I realize her story is bullshit, or at least that she is the exception and not the rule, just like every couple who meets by chance, whose hands touch while reaching for the same book, or who get their nonfat chai lattes mixed up, or who see each other across a crowded subway car and know, just know, they’re listening to the same song on their iPods – I know all of that is only the stuff of romantic comedies created to fuck with our heads.

I should remember the quote I saw on a girl’s tote bag on the bus: Jealousy does the opposite of what you want. I should remind myself it’s okay to feel this. (It’s my hand. I can move it. I can let it punch me in the face, or I can let it feed me cookies.) It’s okay to wallow for a day or two. But then I have to let it go.

* * *

Bittertown is a difficult place to visit. There are bad memories and old worries at every turn. The residue of insecurity. And don’t forget those alien blob things. But it’s also familiar. It’s that damaged yet well-known relationship. It’s what kept me from leaving my marriage for almost a year. Do I stay and make do with this awful familiarity, or leave and enter the – possibly more awful – unknown?

Well, I think it’s time to pack my bags. To leave and visit a new place, tell a new story. It’s time to give the tape away, once and for all.

I am very unhappy.I am in the South of France, in a villa set in a vineyard, where bottle after bottle of Cote du Rhone wine is brought to me every day, alongside exotic cheeses, slices of country ham, and baguettes.I am with a woman who takes pleasure in my pleasure.None of this did I have to pay for.

It’s far more satisfying to see a lie coming than to elicit a confession. A confession ratifies only your ability to badger.

Anyone can badger.

But to know a lie is coming before it is told, to watch it form on someone’s lips:

That is pure power.

Except, it’s the kind of power that makes you a little sick from enjoying it, like Presidential power, or kidnapper power or cheesecake.

Through snooping, sleuthing and sneaking, you can ferret out the future.

The NSA agrees with me wholeheartedly on this.

Mainly out of boredom (impelled somewhat by societally-engineered female insecurity), I started spying on my boyfriend. Nothing major; strictly cyber surveillance – no hired henchmen or hidden cameras. I simply knew the name of an online forum he frequented, so I checked in as “Guest” and monitored what he wrote, who he wrote it to, when.

I guess I wanted a glimpse into his private thoughts.

Yet bearing witness to his frat boy antics illuminated nothing. Bestowed no happiness. His avatar was a large pair of cartoon breasts and his handle also referenced mammary glands. He regularly posted links to porn sites and Jackass-esque stunt videos. He wrote in what I can only describe as ghetto teen speak.

Who was this sophomoric moron?

Why was my college-educated, professionally employed, intellectually developed male partner making time each day to ingratiate himself with a bunch of misogynistic retards?

While the love of my life redeemed himself in my eyes somewhat by regularly posting erudite articles about current events for debate, these submissions went largely unanswered or were acknowledged with monosyllabic replies such as Sux, mayne or Dope.

Yet he continued to post them, day in and day out.

VIEWS: 3 REPLIES: 0.

Why? I wanted to ask. Why are you drawn to these idiots?

Badly. I wanted to know badly. But this would have meant blowing my cover.

You can either trade in your secret power by asking for answers, or you can live uneasily with the questions teetering on the tip of your tongue.

I became drunk with spying power.

Which I duly exercised.

He’d already posted on the forum certain hip hop shows he planned to attend, and I would often ask, casually, where he was going, though I already knew. On several occasions, what came out his mouth did not match his postings. I wanted to call him out.

It made me a little sick, not being able to ask why he was lying.

But I enjoyed knowing I could show up at any moment and provoke a confrontation, Cheaters-style.

The other members of the forum dedicated time to rating asses on a scale of 1 to 10 (Jessica Alba = 10, obese African American fetish model = 2), comparing the buffets of local strip clubs and bragging about who had the worst hangover that day. Crude photo-shopped pictures were extremely popular and provoked delighted outrage amongst the members, especially when someone from the group’s face was used.

Discussion of their craft (DJing) and the state of hip hop, was merely a front for some kind of degenerate brotherhood.

I began to wonder if I was still dating my boyfriend’s Representative.

A Representative is the person that shows up the first couple months of the relationship freshly showered, attentive, interesting, humorous, idiosyncracy-free.

The aseptic version of yourself, your interview self, which is on display until you bridge the gap between initial dating to breaking wind in front of each other without caring.

Maybe he’d kept up the mature male persona only for me. For a relationship. The person he presented himself as on the forum was, frankly, embarrassing.

But what if this was who he really was?

My perception of him was altered, bathed in an unflattering light.

Then it got worse.

I cataloged a trend of increased responses to the only female member of the forum.

Her postings received a lot of views, not just because she was the token female, but because she often uploaded new soft-porn self-portraits.

I began to imagine how they Private Messaged one another, exchanging fantasies, having a cyber affair.

I started to hate him.

Over time my judgment softened.

Well…not softened exactly.

My attention simply wandered.

I lost interest.

The locker room talk and Slutty Sue’s pictures just got boring after awhile.

Nothing ever seemed to change; the same parade of T&A, the same gross-out videos, the same wacky photo shop pictures.

It became as routine and boring as a workday.

As predictable and tedious as a monogamous relationship, perhaps.

And I realized what the BF was looking for probably wasn’t an affair. It was a sense of community, of belonging to a group.

This realization of mine happened around the time Porno Patti posted a picture of her 2 year old and the baby Daddy on the forum. Not that having a baby precludes affairs, just that I didn’t know she had a baby and this checked my imagination.

It didn’t matter that this particular group couldn’t spell, type or use standard American English.

Acceptance mattered.

Recognition mattered.

A common love of music few others had ever heard of mattered.

So I stopped caring about the goddamn forum.

And I stopped checking it.

Stopped checking it so much.

I guess my point is this: it’s good to be vigilant, but perhaps it’s most important to be vigilant of oneself.