Sunday, October 26, 2008

I don't need a man...

...Instead, I need a NARRATIVE.

Not just any narrative. A Plausible Narrative.

And not just a plausible narrative, but a plausible, UN-CLICHED narrative.

That is not too much to ask, is it?

We are now in the last bank holiday weekend of this eventful year, and as misfortune would have it, so far it has been a complete wash-out, with severe weather warnings about gusty gales and lashing rain (at the time of writing, it's in the wee hours of Sunday, so I still think of it as Saturday, if you get my drift).

So the usual then.

That however did not put a dampeners on my spirits as I approached this long weekend, for I am finally lifting my self-imposed social curfew to let my hair down (a bit) and reclaim a semblance of life back. The excuse that my manipulative right-brain gave to my rational left-brain was that, since imposing the curfew I still haven't been making the kind of progress that I needed on my thesis, so why force myself to continue taking a bitter pill when it's shown to not actually work?

So my best friend and I bought tickets to see the Paco Pena afternoon show, to be followed by dinner and drinks. The flamenco dance show seemed to us the perfect way to kick-start the long weekend, and we were relieved when we went to collect the tickets at the box office that, even though it was a matinee show (albeit the last one as its run finished today, i.e. Saturday), it was completely sold out and there were still enquiries about return tickets. In the event the male dancers didn't disappoint - one looked yummy enough to eat, especially when he arched his well-rounded bottoms (oh don't act so appalled by the fact that the female gaze exists) as he did the dance-off routine with the female dancer; the other was disgusting-looking but was an entertaining show-off, revelling in his Dorothy-in-Oz flaming red shoes, campily clicking and clacking his way to the audience's applause.

Afterwards we repaired to our old reliable watering hole Cafe en Seine for food and drinks, keen to get out of the wind and rain and general dreariness of a typical late autumn day. By the time we settled down it was almost 6pm already, and I was absolutely starving as hitherto I had only had a late breakfast, due to an unplanned-for lie-in (my original goal was to get up at 7 and start on my long overdue house-chores - I guess I should have known that my overambitious goal was doomed to failure). So the two of us ordered a food platter meant for four and started getting in the cocktails.

It was during the course of the evening that I suddenly had an epiphany about all my romantic failures (yes let's not beat about the bush and call a spade a spade) to date.

As my friend and I caught up on our lives (hers decidedly way more exciting than mine since she has joined a sailing club and is working her way to a skipper's license in her spare time, availing her with plenty of opportunities to hob-nob with members of the sailing class, which, she insists, is NOT a bunch of snobs at all but normal people like you and I, and actually I believe her, I think), I inevitably reflected on where it all went wrong, although I'm not such a kill-joy (thank Goddess I still have the minimum social awareness for such things) as to keep moaning and groaning about my life the first chance I see my friend properly for a while (for unfettered moaning and groaning I turn conveniently to this blog).

But the epiphany came when two nice-looking blokes (one older, one younger) sat next to our table just after our cocktails arrived. My friend noticed that they had the Paco Pena programme on their table (in fact, it was positioned such that we could easily read the cover), so they also just came in after seeing the same show as us. And thanks to the dependably snooty wait staff in our section, who studiously ignored our desperate eye contact pleas for service, preferring instead to clear out pint glasses from large tables that clearly didn't welcome interruptions to their high-octane conversations, the nice blokes' eyes conveniently drift across to us for commiserations and empathy as they failed yet again to catch the attention of the self-involved waiter.

So being a normal single person, my friend responded to the older bloke's self-deprecating joke and started commiserating about the spectacularly-bad-but-convenient-as-conversation-starter service, and thus for a little while the four of us became united in our opinions that Cafe en Seine wasn't what it used to be and it's another sign that this country has gone to the dogs. Now that we were all talking, the conversation segued conveniently to Paco Pena by virtue of the programme on the table... Or it would have if I had allowed it to go in that direction properly, but for some reason I was beginning to have a visceral reaction to how the evening storyline is shaping out that I nibbed it in the bud by the tried-and-tested subtle-but-not-so-subtle slight back-turning and the directing of talk back solely to my friend.

What the bloody hell is bloody wrong with me?

After sleeping on it for a bit, I think I know the answer. Hence this blog post and its title (which I'm sure I'd regret in the bright dawn of the day which at this time of the year comes around 8am) in the wee hours of the morning.

My epiphany is this: Despite the many opportunities of meeting interesting men in my life over the last while, I nonchalantly let these chances slip away from my fingers, not because (as I hitherto thought to myself) that I am busy with my thesis and don't have time for a relationship and don't want one anyway given my new-found freedom and glorious status (not so glorious now obviously given the state of the property market) as queen of own abode; but because I simply CANNOT STAND the idea of Clichés. In. My. Life.

So that friendly chit-chat with those two good-looking blokes at the table right next to us, who have just after been seeing the same sold-out theatre show, who also had the good sense to come to the same bar afterwards and who too had subsequently been rewarded with icy cold service by the indifferent staff. That's wayyyyyyyyy too neatly coincidental for me. This would have been seen as fate in the eyes of some naifs, but not me - unfortunately my exposure to literary criticism and post-modern theory has inoculated me against the romantic value of neat coincidences.

Especially that eyes-drift-across-the-tables-and-jolt-of-electricity thing? Geez, kill me now with the cheesiest of all sentimental clichés why don't you!

I truly realised now my visceral reaction to anything remotely resembling a cliché - and it doesn't take much for me to consider something clichéd, just its mere appearance as a plot device in the arts (and whether we're talking about the high art of a Shakespearean play or the low-brow culture of Hollywood movies doesn't make a jot of difference) - is the reason why I let interesting men go.

So that time when a guy on a postgrad trip asked me, after hanging around for the best part of a hill walk, "So what books have you been reading lately?" as his stumbling start to a personal conversation, I internally balked even as I chatted away nonchalantly. I liked him and think he is rather sweet, but my girlfriends quickly and intuitively got the meaning of my reaction when I recounted the story, as one of them blurted out immediately: "But that's Mark Darcy's line from Bridget Jones!"

And like the conference last summer, when a guy I met at a reception, with whom I had great conversations not only about academic stuff but also about the world and our cultural backgrounds, kindly walked me back to my hotel (in case any person would think me a slag, I have to clarify that we were initially accompanied by a couple of other academic friends but their hotel was closer to the conference venue than mine), he stopped and asked if we could stretch out the evening further by going for a drink ourselves, and alarm bells were immediately going off in my head. Not so much because of his presumptuousness and apparent disregard for the conference programme the next day (both of which were serious concerns), but, rather disturbingly and laughably, because internally I had images of us as some kind of stereotypical-sad-academic-couple-who-met-each-other-at-academic-conference that I politely refused his offer and thanked him for the walk and sent him packing to his own hotel instead.

And earlier this summer, I met some of my fellow lecturers from other departments in my university when the Library invited a handful of us to a focus group convened for the purpose of helping it improve its online service. This would be just strictly business, or so I thought. I was so surprised to receive an e-mail afterwards by one of my fellow focus group members suggesting to meet up, even though I have not actually chatted to him at all apart from our mere exchange of views during the focus group discussion itself. He's around my age, he's American, he's visiting from an Ivy-league university, and for some strange reason he got hold of my e-mail address from the subject librarian after the session, and according to him we should go for coffee sometime, as he needs some advice to figure out the university and all.

Hmmm. He sure is an interesting man, and he's good-looking and God, intelligent. Shouldn't I jump him already? Jesus he's a good catch even from a purely academic perspective, and God knows we need networking in academia just as much as in the so-called Real World outside. But no. Silly, silly me pretended to ignore his e-mail, which he re-sent again, which I again, extremely stubbornly ignored. The reason for my extreme boneheaded silliness? It is too much visiting-gungho-American-meets-opinionated-local-girl affair, the premise of way too many cheesy American movies, for me to stomach returning his kind and obviously well-meaning overture.

These are the tip of the iceberg. Other clichés that came to mind include the You've-Got-Mail scenario (my reason for staying out of chat sites and not pursuing email correspondences with online blog friends), the damsel-in-distress-saved-by-knight-in-shining-armour Mills-and-Boons plotline (the kind guy friend who rescued me from my domestic disasters again and again? Not happening), the book-as-a-sign device straight out of Milan Kundera's much-celebrated novel (that time a guy wanted to chat to me when I was engrossed in Anna Karenina in a cafe), or the work-mate-turned-life-partner cliché (that lovely new guy in the office who's been very sweet to me? Sorry but we can't have the pen-in-office-ink scenario either, especially when I've learnt better from past experience), etc. etc. And on it goes.

Whatever. I know I'm sick.

The only blessing this adverse reaction to clichés has given me is that all my girlfriends could rest assured that I'm no danger to their boyfriends or husbands, as I could never ever stomach the thought of going behind their backs. It's not just that it's absolutely immoral, but also because IT'S JUST SUCH A BLOODY CLICHE! I cannot countenance the mere thought of becoming the exemplar of that old hoary anti-feminist stereotype about unmarried women, that single-girlfriend-being-a-danger-to-your-man melodrama.

But that is small, small comfort when faced with the reality that I cannot stand any cliché-like situation in my life, even when my life is probably full of such clichés and when such clichés bring apparently good things. I don't used to be like this, but now I don't see any way out of not reacting negatively to seemingly innocuous situations and even more seemingly innocent guys, apart from forcing myself to believe that life is stranger than fiction.

Except of course that there is already a bloody Hollywood movie (albeit sweet and quirky) by that very same name already.

Oh well. I realised that lately I've been chasing unrealistic ideas about leading an unconventional life unemcumbered by cultural clichés, and it's about time I get past my internal wince and look at the real person in front of me beyond the stultifying confines of a cliché and just enjoy the opportunities that life gives me to meet interesting people.

After all, not every encounter, however clichéd or refreshingly unconventional to start off with, is necessarily the beginning of a beautiful friendship, nor is it guaranteed to end in a cringeworthy finale.

Even when it does, so what? Life's a comedy too. Even if its comedic value is to be derived solely from our ability to laugh at our highly-inept selves in wincingly bad social situations. Not unlike those in Curb Your Enthusiasm, in fact.

So as not to look the gift horse in the mouth and squander yet more oppportunities Fortune has very kindly blessed me with, I've accepted my friend's invitation to come visit her at the sailing club, which apparently offers amazing views of sunset over Dublin Bay and yes, opportunity to get to know her sailing friends. We're also buying tickets for the next upcoming opera at the same venue, and I just remembered that I still owe two other girlfriends a night-out at the theatres after ill-advisedly promising to look up shows when the Dublin Theatre Festival was on and then having to bail out in the end.

And towards the end of this Bank Holiday I'd be seeing a bunch of my old mates at a house party, one of whom actually recently produced a sprog named Sean. The arrival of Little Seany was timed more or less the same as my initial thesis submission deadline, and my friend - bless her - delivered a healthy hefty baby ahead of schedule, whilst mine unfortunately seems to have indications of a still-birth and is undergoing intensive life support to save its precious, fragile life.

But I'm determined to pick up both the pieces of my life and its, just you wait and see.

Nota Bene: Some details of my reminiscences and descriptions above may have been changed to protect the innocent, including of course yours truly. After all, I was not born yesterday and am well alive to the dangers of cyber-stalking.

Just saw this hilarious video on a HK stand-up comic whom I've never heard of before but whose particular segment parodying the romantic elements in Stephen Chow's movie kinda reflects the involuntary gagging reflex that I have to suppress whenever I'm faced with a cliched pick-up situation. It's in very poor taste, full of mangled profanity, and will no doubt bring down the tone of my cultivated, civilised blog, but it's worth a laugh.

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At Sun Oct 26, 12:59:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger 梁巔巔 said...

Man, is very good! Of course, I mean a good man, a real man! ^~

At Sun Oct 26, 01:17:00 p.m. GMT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

trust me, i usually dont have much patience for long long blog entries but THIS IS GOOD!!

now what you can do right now is:


looks like ure a pretty good catch urself hence the countless pick-ups. im looking forward to hearing good news from you!! :)

At Mon Oct 27, 01:29:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger laichungleung said...

I think that's a good metaphor, if I can call it. We all want a good narrative arc, not full of cliches if possible. But then again, what is so bad about cliche anyway? I guess on some level, we or I thought I was above cliche but then before I knew it, I am just happy to live a cliche life.

At Mon Oct 27, 06:07:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

LDD: Haha,thanks. But I think I need to clarify that my problem is not so much with men per se, but with the situations that I met them in.

Serenemai: Thank you thank you thank you! I'm so glad that you liked my writing in this blog post despite its length. In fact, I had thought about taking it down, but then decided against it, and your comment helped me strengthen that resolve.

Anyway, I'm afraid it's too late for me to stop watching / reading anything love-related, as it's more often than not the key theme of serious literature and drama, too. And unfortunately not reading is something I can't ever force myself to do.

I'm not sure if I'm after the sort of "good news" that you have in mind? If anything, it's the stereoptyical "good news" that I can't help running away from. I think what I need really is not to jump into conclusions too much and just relax.

LCL: Thanks for your kind comment and appreciating where I'm coming from. Yes, I know intellectually that cliches are not so bad, but it's my gut feelings that forced me to switch to flight mode every time I'm faced with a remotely cliched situation. I'm working on getting past my internal "yuck" factor.

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