November 13, 2001

This Happiness Business

Dean and Gail are in love. Their love is of the pass-the-puke-bucket variety – my favorite kind.

Thing is, I’ve never met these people.

Dean writes textism. I like textism. Last August Dean announced in textism that he was moving to the south of France to, as he put it, “spend languid days and nights with a beautiful, ludicrously smart woman” with whom he was “deeply, irrevocably in love.” The words “ludicrously smart woman” linked to Gail’s website, openbrackets. This is how I came to know Gail, or rather her writing. (I wouldn’t pretend to know Gail, nor Dean for that matter, nor anyone, really, merely through what he or she wrote. It is not enough. Bowling. I have always said this. Bowling is the best way to know a person. Also, sex and poker. Bowling, sex, and poker: the holy trinity of knowing.)

There were sixteen days between Dean’s announcement and his actual move. He used this time to finish his final projects, sell or abandon the bulk of his possessions, and be feted by friends – events he related with bitchy and characteristic wit.

Gail, meanwhile, swooned. The day after Dean’s announcement, she posted her own brave declaration. I became a fan on the spot and read the entirety of openbrackets. Along the way I discovered an entry from July 14, “Love and the turning year,” unquestionably addressed to Dean:


Thunder. My heart trembles.
I lift my head from my pillow and listen.
It is not a chariot.

Fu Hsuan (217-278)

I can no longer untangle my hair

I can no longer untangle my hair.
I feed on my own flesh in secret.
Do you want to measure how much I long for you?
Look at my belt, how loose it hangs.

Anonymous (Six Dynasties)

Translations by Kenneth Rexroth

On August 28, Dean posted his final To Do list. It consisted of twenty-five items, beginning with “Call bookseller” and ending with “Print last set of proofs,” and included, in the middle, the mysterious “Sell kitchen to Bev.” Gail’s list from that day was different, as befit her different circumstance:

1) Eat
2) Sleep
3) Breathe
4) Run grinning like a simpleton through a crowded airport and jump into his arms.

Oh, come on, 1 out of 4 isn’t bad…

My heart went out to Gail who had nothing to do but wait while Dean mocked Kate Winslet’s breasts and sold his kitchen to Bev. On August 24 she reported on the effects of this waiting:

Let’s see…

Found the remote control in the fridge this morning.

Promised a client that I’d do something right away. Remembered to do it three hours later.

Walked into town to post some letters. Forgot to bring the letters. Went back home, got the letters and, back in town, noticed I hadn’t put stamps on. Laughed out loud, raising concerns among villagers’ about my current mental state. Begged 9 F credit from post office.

Read the same sentence 15 times before deciding to skip to the next one.

Contemplated new chair.

Charred the brioche.

Sighed a lot.

It’s 3 am.

George Bernard Shaw observed that newspapers cannot distinguish between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. I feel like a newspaper sometimes, particularly when it comes to love. Dean and Gail posted nothing for two days. Silence. I told myself they were probably too busy fucking, etc., to attend to their readers. Which is understandable. Life is to be lived. But then I fretted that all was not well, that the build-up had been too much.

Truth is, I had fretted all along, for each had given indication, here and there, of ambivalence, of difficulties. Not with each other, but with love. Dean in particular concerned me. In his original announcement, immediately after saying that he was “deeply, irrevocably in love,” he wrote: “Still a little unclear on this happiness business.”

I take back what I said about not knowing someone through their writing. I feel I know Dean. He’s pissy and opinionated, a man who abhors half-measures. Isn’t love, the lived version, a half-measure? Sometimes I think it is. And I would venture that Dean does too, or did, previous to Gail, which would explain his uncertainty about “this happiness business.”

In their first posts post-move, each described driving through the countryside on their way from Paris to her home – now their home – in the south of France. The two descriptions formed a two-panel portrait of the experience:

Him: “Bombing at midnight across the countryside in her decrepit Ford, grinning like fools, the air hot and rich, the streets narrow.”

Her: “Up out of the city, Mediterranean midnight wrapping itself around us as we speed deep into the country. Only wide curves of dark tree-lined roads lit by high beams, fragrant air passing over us. Heat lightning flashes red revealing sudden contours of the landscape. And we’re speechless.”

Each is present in the other’s description. And the two perspectives form… I don’t know what they form, but it’s really lovely, no? the two of them in her car, and so happy, thinking, This is it, holy shit, my god, finally.

I believe that the parting is always contained in the greeting. I believe that one knows from the beginning why a relationship will fail, that the problem is plain and yet one pretends not to see it; or perhaps one admits to seeing it but downplays its significance. The flush of love, or attraction, or hope, is a powerful hallucinogen, one that makes us see things that are not there, and fail to see things that are. A relationship does not begin in earnest until the effects of this drug have worn off.

I don’t think the effects have worn off for Dean and Gail. Or perhaps my theory does not apply in their case. Time will tell. Meanwhile there are the periodic declarations. This one and this and this and this. I collect them. I don’t know these people, but I care. No doubt for personal reasons. If it can work for them, it can work for others. For me, for example. For me and Rachel.