Highlights from "We learn Nothing"by Tim krieder part 1

  1. 1.
    “There’s a fine line between the bold romantic gesture and stalking. The tricky crux of the matter is that it depends to a great extent on how that gesture is going to be received—which factor, unfortunately, the impetuous suitor/obsessed stalker has lost all ability to gauge."
  2. 2.
    “That astronaut’s official NASA photo and her police mug shot make for instructive before-and-after illustrations of the effects of love, as grimly cautionary as ad campaigns about the ravages of crystal meth. I was moved to unpleasant recognition by that photo of her face—gaunt and disheveled, deranged, exhausted, utterly broken and lost.
    “I had seen that face before, in the mirror. And so, I bet, have most of us. We’ve just been lucky enough not to have it photographed for the public record. But we shouldn’t let ourselves forget it, or the weeks or months we spent curled up weeping on the couch, smashing glassware, kicking through drywall, sending ill-advised emails and having wrenching late-night phone conversations, watching whole seasons of TV series at one sitting, listening to the one song we could still bear to hear."
  3. 3.
    “Whom, exactly, do we think we’re kidding? Is all this solemn reproach and pretended incomprehension just for the benefit of prigs and evangelicals, the same way movies have to be hilariously bowdlerized on TV for the sake of viewers under ten."
  4. 4.
    “The truth is, people are ravenous for sex, sociopaths for love. I sometimes like to daydream that if we were all somehow simultaneously outed as lechers and perverts and sentimental slobs, it might be, after the initial shock of disillusionment, liberating. It might be a relief to quit maintaining this rigid pose of normalcy and own up to the
    outlaws and monsters we are.”
  5. 5.
    “It’s easy to forget that such lives are more fun to read about than to live. Biographies tend to focus on the delirious highs, like Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra tossing empty champagne bottles out of their convertible and shooting out street lights with a pistol on their first date, and elide the years when the subject lies alone in bed drinking
    “and watching her own old movies on late-night TV. The goal of a life is not to provide material for good stories”
  6. 6.
    “Heartbreak is the common term for this condition—a Hallmark euphemism for something that’s about as romantic as pancreatitis. I’ve endured three or four let’s call them episodes in my life. Which may not seem like all that many unless you’re a friend of mine who’s had to watch. I would not want to relive even one second of those times,
    nor would I wish them on anyone else, but I also don’t know if I can relate to anyone who hasn’t gone through them. (I respect people who had to quit drinking lest it “kill them, but those who never saw the appeal of the stuff in the first place seem not quite to be trusted.) At such times we are certainly not at our best but we are undeniably at our most human—utterly vulnerable, naked and laid open, a mess”
  7. 7.
    “Listen to some country songs, the music of the heartland, that alleged bastion of family values: lachrymose ballads about loving the wrong man, killing your wife in a jealous rage, truckers and waitresses suffering Shakespearian torments, torn between passion and virtue.”
  8. 8.
    “My friend Lauren once told me that she could totally understand—which is not the same as sympathize with—those losers who kill their exes and/or their exes’ new lovers, that black, annihilating If-I-can’t-have-her-then-no-one-else-will impulse, because it’s so painful to know that the person you love is still out there in the world, living their
    Life, going to work and laughing with friends and drinking margaritas. It’s a lesser hurt than grief, but, in a way, crueler—it’s more like being dead yourself, and having to watch life go on without you. I loved her for owning up to this. Not that Lauren or I—or you—would ever do any such thing ourselves. But I sometimes wonder whether the line between those of us who don’t do such things and the few who do is as impermeable as we like to think. Anytime I hear about another one of us gone .....
  9. 9.
    .....berserk, shooting up his ex’s office or drowning her kids to free herself up for her Internet boyfriend, the question I always ask is not, like every other tongue-clucking pundit in the country, how could this have happened? but why doesn’t this happen every day? It makes me proud of all of us who are secretly going to pieces behind closed
    doors but still somehow keeping it together for the public, collaborating in the shaky ongoing effort of not letting civilization fall apart for one more day.”
  10. 10.
    “Our lovers are summoned up by the most primal and naked parts of ourselves. Introducing these people to our friends and family is, in a way, more heedlessly exhibitionistic than posting nude photos or sex tapes of ourselves online; it’s like letting everyone watch our uncensored dreams.”
  11. 11.
    “The imperious fury I felt at these breakups was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in adulthood, but anyone who’s heard an infant waking up alone in the night would recognize the howling.) The trick, I suppose, is to find someone with a touch of the pathology you require, but not so much that it will destroy you. But, as with drinking just
    “enough to feel mellow and well-disposed toward the world, but not so much that you end up vomiting in the street, this can take some trial and error to calibrate.”
  12. 12.
    “I don’t know whether I would trade in those dizzying highs to rid myself of the memory of the crashes and wreckage. About the best thing I got out of any of those affairs was a really good pie crust recipe. But if anyone were to ask me, “Have you ever been in love?" I could at least say, with the same sort of rueful pride as a recovering alcoholic
    who’s asked whether he’s ever been known to take a drink: “Oh, yes.” I’ve known kisses so narcotic they made my eyes roll back in my head. For a few weeks one winter I walked around feeling like I had a miniature sun in my heart. I learned that making out on the subway is one of those things, like smoking cigars or riding Jet-Skis, that is obnoxious and repulsive when other people do it but incredibly fun when it is you. And there are still songs that, whenever I hear them, whatever I’m doing...
  13. 13.
    .....will send me into a moment’s exquisite reverie, like an old injury’s twinge at an oncoming storm. Maybe one reason artists seems so susceptible to love affairs is that being in love is one of the only times when life is anything like art—when we actually feel the way torch songs and arias sound, the way Gene Kelly looks singing in the rain.
    It might all have been worth it if I’d been the only one hurt.”
  14. 14.
    “Right now I’m neither in love nor heartbroken. I almost hesitate to say this: it still feels provisional, like remission. Sometimes I’m afraid it may be as ephemeral as that temporary sanity that afflicts us for as long as forty-five seconds after orgasm. But at other times I worry it may be permanent. Maybe we have a finite capacity for falling
    in love that gets depleted with age. Or maybe romantic love is an affliction of adolescence, like acne or a passionate ideological investment in pop songs. It’s mostly a relief to be free of it, like not waking up hung over. At those moments when I’ve felt myself starting to relapse—waiting for someone to call who wasn’t going to, that familiar helplessness clutching my gut—I’ve recoiled like a recovering alcoholic waking from a dream of being blackedout drunk, relieved and thankful he's sober.
  15. 15.
    “But sometimes this life starts to feel grudging and dutiful. I’m clear-eyed again, but the world looks lusterless and dull. I can understand why schizophrenics stop taking their meds. I’m functioning and accomplishing things; everyone approves of my behavior and agrees that I seem happier; I’m not embarrassing my friends with any histrionic
    Displays. “But I also know that all around me the air is full of songs too beautiful for me to hear. Sometimes I’ll see a pair of electric-blue damselflies coupled in flight, and I remember how it felt to be weightless.”
  16. 16.
    “you can blow life off for as long as you want, but you still have to take the finals.”
  17. 17.
    “Squandering time is a luxury of profligate youth, when the years are to us as dollars are to billionaires.”
  18. 18.
    “He told me that even as an adult he’d gotten into a few confrontations with people he saw mistreating animals or children. Whether this was literally true is irrelevant; the fact that he told such stories was a measure of his hatred of cruelty. Skelly’s stories were expressions of his innermost self as pure and unconscious as dreams.”
  19. 19.
    “One of the more insidious properties of secrets is that they impose secrecy on the people around them, suborning them all into silence.”
  20. 20.
    “What someone’s lies reveal about them (aspirations to being an accomplished writer, fantasies of an exotic history and a cosmopolitan family) are always sadder than the fact of the lies themselves. These inventions illuminate the negative spaces of someone’s self-image, their vanity and insecurities and most childish wishes, as we can infer from
    warped starlight the presence of a far vaster mass of dark matter.”
  21. 21.
    “One of the regulars there had the worst toupee in the world, a comical little wig taped in place on the top of his head. Looking at this man and drinking our VLBs, we developed the concept of the Soul Toupee. Each of us has a Soul Toupee. The Soul Toupee is that thing “about ourselves we are most deeply embarrassed by and like to think we have
    “cunningly concealed from the world, but which is, in fact, pitifully obvious to everybody who knows us. Contemplating one’s own Soul Toupee is not an exercise for the fainthearted. Most of the time other people don’t even get why our Soul Toupee is any big deal o“r a cause of such evident deep shame to us but they can tell that it is because of our inept, transparent efforts to cover it."
  22. 22.
    “What’s so ironic and sad about this is that the very parts of ourselves that we’re most ashamed of and eager to conceal are not only obvious to everyone but are also, quite often, the parts of us they love best.”
  23. 23.
    “This is one reason people need to believe in God—because we want someone to know us, truly, all the way through, even the worst of us.”
  24. 24.
    “I never said so, because I’m too polite (and because I imagine, like most atheists, that believers’ faith is far more fragile than it is), but I always privately thought that religion was like one of Skelly’s stories—an attempt to pretty up a cruddy and lusterless world. Skelly, like C. S. Lewis, thought the gospel was too strange, too unlikely,
    not to be true. It was simply too good a story.”
  25. 25.
    “This is one of the things we rely on our friends for: to think better of us than we think of ourselves. It makes us feel better, but it also makes us be better; we try to be the person they believe we are. Skelly believed in his friends’ best selves. It was another story he told—like most of his, better than the mottled truth.
    But it was also one of those magical stories, like “those old science fiction tales about voyages to the moon, that make themselves come true.”
  26. 26.
    “When we die, all our secrets are loosed, like demons departing a body. Whatever subjective self we protected or kept hidden all our lives is gone; all that’s left of us is stories.”
  27. 27.
    “You make up little stories to explain misunderstandings and conflicts, starring yourself as innocent victim and casting your antagonist as a villain driven by sheer, unilateral, motiveless malice. If you’ve ever made the mistake of committing your half of these arguments to print or email, you probably learned, as I have, that the other person’s
    half of the argument fails to conform to the script you wrote for them.”
  28. 28.
    “Most people are just too self-absorbed, well-meaning, and lazy to bother orchestrating Machiavellian plans to slight or insult us. It’s more often a boring, complicated story of wrong assumptions, miscommunication, bad administration, and cover-ups—people trying, and mostly failing, to do the right thing, hurting each other not because that’s
    their intention but because it’s impossible to avoid.”
  29. 29.
    “This story isn’t morally satisfying at all. It’s pointless and shitty and sad, a collision of victims. I’d been lured by a base craving into a finer, less comfortable feeling I hadn’t expected or desired. It was like trying to seduce a girl and accidentally falling in love."
  30. 30.
    “Outrage is healthy to the extent that it causes us to act against injustice, just as pain is when it causes us to avoid bodily harm.
  31. 31.
    (That's all for part one.)