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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
APR
30

Concert for One

I was traveling for work this past week, and one of the event speakers did this (super uncomfortable) thing where he would ask members of the audience to stand up and share very personal things...in front of hundreds of their business colleagues. Now, I don't recommend this. And even though some of the insights that were ultimately shared did border near truth and forward-propelling insight, I'm not sure it's worth putting a person through such public personal scrutiny.

I bring this up only because his first question to the first person called up on stage has stuck with me: "Tell us something that no one else knows and that you are ashamed of." See what I mean about this maybe not being the kind of thing you want to answer in front of hundreds of people? I wanted to be prepared in case I was brought up on stage (the horror), and about the only thing I could think of that truly no one in the audience knew, and something not overly intimate or revealing, was that I was a talented violinist and yet decided to quit playing violin.

Clearly this is not a super critical or important thing, and I doubt it has had much impact on the overall course of my life, but I think about it a lot. Not in a haunting way, necessarily, but in a way that makes me feel sad for neglecting to nurture a gift I feel I was given. At the time it was too much with all the things my teenage self had going on, and by that I mean the PRACTICING was too much. I wanted violin to be something I played when I felt the need to, when it struck me, not because my parents required me to...every day. So when my saintly violin teacher died and the only other alternative was a rather mean lady a few towns over who expected much more in terms of effort and improvement, it was, as they say, the straw that broke the back. I was OUT.

I felt good about the choice at the time, which is to say I felt relieved to have it off my plate, but now it sits there as this thing from my past that I gave up on. This thing I actually had a talent for. I feel like I have this on pretty good authority, because when my conscience got the better of me and I eventually agreed to ONE LESSON with the mean lady, she proclaimed to my siblings afterward, "Well, Tali is the one with the talent." But this is the crux, the thing my writer mind can't figure out, because is this seeming obligation to pursue those things at which we are gifted more important than the need to pursue those things we are truly passionate and joyful about?

Honestly, there are things, many things, I enjoy more than playing violin. So I feel overall pretty good about where I've ended up. That said, I may never shake the possibility that violin was the thing I could have been the best at. It's why I still think about it. It's why I considered sharing this with hundreds of business colleagues over breakfast. It's why I purchased this painting over all the others when at an arts festival on last week's trip. I think it's OK to have things like this occasionally occupy our mental energy, so feel free to answer the question for yourself, and just be glad no one's asking you to do it in front a full ballroom.

In case anyone's curious, the speaker also asked us to stand up if we worked with anyone who we wish we didn't, which is also an interesting thing to ask a room full of people who are surrounded by THEIR CO-WORKERS, BOSSES, and COMPANY EXECUTIVES. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I stood up, but let me just say that I believe in being honest. I'll leave you with that, so picture me serenading you out and onto your next adventure, the one you're choosing because you love it.

SEP
09

Our Version of Truth

A fan of Ira Glass and his weekly This American Life broadcasts (LaDonna, anyone??), I haven't been able to shake the story told in last week's How I got into College episode. The one about the Bosnian student who believed a certain teacher's reaction to an essay he wrote was the catalyst for the series of occurances that ultimately led him to success. Listening to the student's version, it's a great story. One that makes clear not only the gratitude he has for her impact upon his life, but also pinpoints the exact moment, the specific thing, that started the chain reaction. In this case, the essay. In the student's mind, if he hadn't written that essay, if his teacher hadn't read it, if she hadn't then told him he needed to get himself to a better school and then created the opportunity for him to do so, then he wouldn't be where he is today. It was the essay, see. The essay was the thing.

Interestingly, when they tracked down the teacher years later, she debunked the student's theory, assuring him the essay had played no part. She'd been watching him for months, she says, observing his talents and capabilities and determining he needed more than their school could offer long before he'd ever written the essay. You could tell from the student's reaction that he was having a hard time accepting this. He kept trying to bring the essay back into the conversation, even suggesting that while not the main driver then, it at least contributed to her determination that he needed a new school. Sounding almost frustrated, as if she'd realized he was twisting the story to his own end, she wouldn't even give him that. The essay was not the thing.

The teacher further claims that she can't take as much credit as the student gives her, in that she knew he was bound for greatness and fully believes he would have achieved it even without her help in getting admitted to a new high school. And it's a rather tragic thing, to watch (or in this case listen to) a person's core belief dissolve right in front of them. He'd counted on this. He told the story at every dinner party. It was the reason he had succeeded. 

The interviewer asked the student toward the end of the episode if he was going to start telling it differently now that he knew the truth, but he said he wouldn't. To him, it was reality. It was how he had observed a very significant series of life events. And this may seem sneaky, but the thing is, I kind of get it. Not having the full background, he built this memory around how he perceived what happened, (he wrote an essay, his teacher suggested a new school) and knowing nothing else, it became his doctrine. His truth. It's a reminder, not just of how fragile and shakable our memories can be, but also of how powerfully the most important ones can be rooted into our very being. To the point where we need them preserved, intact, and whole just to survive.

 

MAY
11

On Writing about your Love Life

There are some benefits to writing a book about your love life. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any, but don’t let that deter you if you’re considering the same. The good news is that you’re likely not in touch with any of your exes, so they won’t even know you’ve written a book. Again, let me reiterate: THIS IS VERY GOOD NEWS. If, however, you ARE in touch with any of your exes (“in touch” means connected via social media, naturally), they might see you’ve written a book, but they’ll have no idea they’re in it, which means their comments like “You’re the real deal, Tali!” will trigger equal parts mischievous delight at your own stealth and acute horror at how close they’ve come to figuring it out.

Inevitably there’s One Ex to whom you’re still fairly connected. Let’s say, hypothetically, that this One Ex is whom the bulk of the book is about and it ends with him breaking your heart in epic fashion. Hypothetically. If you have such an ex, trust me: he won’t read it. THIS IS ALSO VERY GOOD NEWS.

Then there is the matter of future men you may date. Not that admitting in your book that you go to church and wish alcohol didn’t exist will leave you a particularly large number of interested suitors, but the point is, if they do read your book, they’ll know your game. They’ll know how you approach a relationship. They may know better how to woo you, but they’ll also know when you’re on your way out. They’ll be able to read the signs, because they literally already have. It’s an interesting situation, honestly, and in recent weeks I’ve had a potential suitor who wanted to discuss my first-chapter theory that most of the time you make up your mind about romantic compatibility right away, another who admitted the book made him think about how he would approach dating me if it ever got to that point, and yet another who told me he sides with my One Ex (the #1 way to not get lucky, by the way).

And we can’t forget the family contingent, because if there’s anyone who’s going to lose their mind reading about your romantic exploits, it’s your mother. And father. And possibly everyone else related to you. Not that your family was ever intended as your target audience, but you’ve got to give it to them, this right to be traumatized and to describe the book using charming descriptors like “painful to read.” But it’s OK, because you know they love you. You know they are proud of you. You know mostly they are just glad you’re no longer mixed up with the sumbitch you dated more than a decade ago. MORE VERY GOOD NEWS.

So, see, it’s not all bad. Sure, your family hates it and your exes avoid it and your future dating life is entirely in jeopardy, but it will all be worth it when a woman approaches you on behalf of her daughter who’s just gone through a rough breakup. You’ll sign a book for her, for her daughter too, and for just that moment, the two of you will be connected in a way that has you both clasping your hearts. It will all be worth it when a young man tells you, in tears, that he’s just finished the book and is so impressed by how accurately you’re able to describe “what this feels like.” Because these things will happen to you. They’ll happen to you a lot. And they’ll remind you why you write in the first place; why it’s so important to remind people of the simple truth that we are all the same.

JUL
26

On Men Who Sleep Around

The crux of my question, really, is should women be OK with dating men who sleep around, but we'll get to that. First, because it's most of what has me waxing on the topic in general, I just read a book that's equal parts funny and informative, and how many things can you say that about? Not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, that's for sure. The book I read is called It Ended Badly, which discusses what the author dubs the worst breakups in history. Think Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Think Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. I'll save you my Goodreads spiel, suffice it to say, I recommend this book. If you like history and/or have ever been through a breakup and/or want a reason to severely dislike Norman Mailer.

I was fascinated by several of these breakups, but the one that affected me most was Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton. Supposedly her one love (oddly, her husband was not), Wharton and Fullerton's affair was brief but passionate, until he up and left without so much as a word. This resonated with me personally as it's what a love of mine did to me once, and reading excerpts from Edith's letters to Morton (essentially "Where are you? Are you coming back? I don't understand.") were pretty brutal. But what impressed me was how she was ultimately able to recover and become somewhat empowered by the whole situation. Look, I'm not here to judge Morton Fullerton...just to say that he was probably slutty and didn't treat her the way she deserved to be treated. Here, ultimately, is Edith, in a letter to Morton--a letter that I typed on my typewriter last night and stuck on the fridge because I found it so inspiring:

"What you wish, apparently, is to take of my life the inmost & uttermost that a woman--a woman like me--can give, for an hour, now and then, when it suits you; & when the hour is over, to leave me out of your mind & out of your life as a man leaves the companion who has afforded him a transient distraction. I think I am worth more than that, or worth, perhaps I had better say, something quite different."

Damn, girl. Truth.

Yet how many women can't bring themselves to say that? That they are worth more than an hour now and then? Too many of us.

Because of a rather uncharacteristic (for me) choice of recent male company, I decided to ask around as to whether this behavior was acceptable. I come from a very conservative background, and sometimes I like to check that against, well, reality. Here's how a conversation played out over lunch:

Me: So, should this bother me?

Friend: Pssssh, no. Look, this is what men do.

Me: But...so...you don't think it's gross at all?

Friend: I think it's gross if he doesn't shower in between, but other than that, no, I don't think it's gross.

I was fairly certain in the moment that I was hallucinating. And so I'm a bit relieved that based on all the other feedback I got, most women do ultimately want to be with someone who's not sleeping with anyone else. Of course, the catch here is that this isn't really about what most women think about a situation or what they say they would do. It's about what you would do. It's about what you will do. When he comes around for his next hour, when it suits him, are you going to take what you can get and feel lucky that he wants you for any amount of time at all (not saying this is never the answer), or can you muster the huevos to go all Edith on him and say the thing we're all not saying, even though we should (not saying this is as easy as it sounds...just that we are most certainly worth more than that).