Discover more from ASK MOLLY
Are you pleased yet?
Summer (1943-44) by Remedios Varo
Girl dinner is snacks looking pretty on a plate. Girl breakfast is open air looking fresh for the camera. Girl lunch is 200 mg of caffeine plus electrolytes plus the gas-tank aftertaste of sucralose. Girl snack is dragging your tongue across cement. Girl fun is making out with a punching clown, not a sex doll, no holes, no protuberances, just a big white smiling face and two triangles of orange hair, a big smile that says EVERYTHING IS FUNNY and HEY GIRL and YOU SHOULD SMILE MORE and BE MORE LIKE ME.
I fell in love with a punching clown once. I wasn’t attracted to him at first but I did notice him because he laughed so much, he wobbled back and forth and laughed at everything. The first night we went out alone together, we saw “Crossroads,” the movie where Britney Spears goes on a girl adventure, eating pretty snacks on a plate and admiring the open air and pounding energy drinks to stay small enough to keep dancing with snakes forever and ever. It was “Snakes on a Plane” but there was no plane, it was snakes on a beach at magic hour with Britney, Britney and friends throwing their heads back and laughing, tossing their blonde extensions around in the golden light like Y2K Medusas, flashing their bleached teeth as the sun set. A monkey watching this movie might believe these girls were baring their teeth at each other, a monkey might think what are they fighting about and how do they keep their teeth so white, a monkey might envy teeth like that, square and white like peppermint Chiclets, like a refrigerator from the ‘50s, like hospital walls. This monkey has been a few places. This monkey knows a few things.
And each time Britney Spears entered the scene wearing a new outfit, the punching clown would say, “Oooo, Sweatpants Britney!” or “Mmm, Bikini Britney!” The punching clown saw each scene as a new Barbie product reveal, which made me laugh and it also made the punching clown sound confusingly gay and confusingly sexist. But at the time I loved feeling confused, the gay and sexist sounds kept me off-balance and that’s what I wanted, never quite finding my footing, never quite sure of the big picture, hyper focused on the texture of the day, the tone of the moment, the possibility that I’d found someone I could follow. I needed a break from my head, I wanted empty, I wanted someone full of open air, I thought I should smile more.
A week later in my apartment late at night, the punching clown and I were playing our favorite songs for each other and I played Kristin Hersh’s “Me and My Charms” because I loved that song so much, it wasn’t a test, I just wanted to play that song, we were probably stoned. But when the song started I remembered how dark it was, a song about losing your mind, a song about wanting love but knowing you’re not light enough or sturdy enough to get it. So I start to talk, and once I really start talking and a song I love is playing I lose my balance completely, the residual texture of the day floods my senses, the residual tone of the moment sinks me, the possibility that I’d found someone I could follow lights up my nerve endings, and soon I was crying and explaining and crying some more and explaining that.
Let’s be fair to my younger self: Some men who are not punching clowns love this.
But this was a punching clown, and the punching clown was not smiling for the first time that night. He made some bland and nondescript statements that made it very clear that he had not comprehended a word of what I’d just said, and then he chose a new song about summer camp or French fries.
In the morning, the punching clown told me that he thought I needed a lot more than he could ever deliver. This was so piercingly accurate, it was almost like the punching clown was the smartest object in the room, it was almost like the punching clown was clairvoyant, the punching clown could see right through me and the punching clown agreed with me, I should become lighter and bouncier and I should smile more. But the punching clown also quite reasonably ascertained that this was impossible, I would never manage it.
The punching clown was so correct and so healthy in his assessment that I immediately disagreed, I told the punching clown that I was a regular girl who could change outfits whenever I wanted, like Sweatpants Britney, like Bikini Britney, I only needed a pretty assortment of snacks for dinner and I only needed open air for lunch, I could drink 200 mg of caffeine and ignore the gas-tank aftertaste, I could dance with snakes and fall in love with a gay sexist clown.
I could do anything.
I wasn’t wrong about that. I could follow anyone who kept me off balance, I could smile more, I could surround myself with snakes and keep gyrating, I could laugh at everything, I could be more like you or you or you, I could forget me and my charms. So I dragged my tongue across cement for a while, and it was fun a lot of the time, not much to worry about, just a big white smiling face and two triangles of orange hair, always a little unsteady, always needing more than I got, always pretty on a plate, always almost starving.
And then, about two years later, I learned to make a fist.
Turns out I don’t punch like a girl.
What did you learn, the first time you promised someone something that you weren’t sure you could deliver?
I learned that sometimes it’s fun to try anyway. I learned that when a girl goes on an adventure, she loses herself for a while and that feels good, at least until she’s utterly lost. Once she’s out of outfits and out of snacks, things get dark. But it’s not shallow to want to lose yourself. I keep saying that to my friend whose husband is going through a crisis. It’s not shallow to hurl yourself at a mirage. It’s childish and willfully stubborn but it’s not shallow. It’s the opposite of shallow.
You starve yourself because you’re starved for attention — the right kind of attention, the kind with the tone and texture you crave. You bend yourself because you became too rigid without noticing it. You smile back because mimicry is easier than invention. You follow because you’re tired of bushwhacking. You bounce up and down because it makes you feel less heavy.
You surrender to a feeling because you haven’t been feeling enough. It’s myopic and short-sighted but it’s not shallow. Soon you will stare into the depths, you will feel everything, you will get a clear view of the big picture. Just try not to break anything. Keep talking. Be honest about where you are.
This monkey has been a few places. This monkey knows a few things. You don’t aim for his head, you aim for a point behind his head. I never hit that clown. You shift your weight onto the foot underneath your punching arm. I never even took a swing. You fake him out with your left then connect with your right. I still learned how well I could fight.
I rediscovered my charms. I grew arrogant, and my arrogance revealed the truth: These punches are poetry, but they never connect, because he never connects the dots. He doesn’t learn from his mistakes. He wobbles but he doesn’t fall down. Pity him.
Falling down isn’t the same thing as falling apart. I wasn’t the crazy one. The crazy one is the one who never changes, never adapts, never surprises you, never stops talking about summer camp and French fries. It’s fun but it’s not healthy. It’s light but it’s not real. The crazy one never gets lost. He stays in one place but he talks like he’s having a great adventure.
A monkey watching this movie might believe that this girl is baring her teeth, a monkey might think what is she fighting about and why does she always win? A monkey might envy a story like that, square and white and neat, all loose ends tied up, everything in its proper place. A monkey might recognize that it’s never that simple: the day grows long and you start to doubt everything, the adventure you craved feels shallow after all, it’s all a mirage, you say too much and nothing gets clearer, you fall down and can’t get up, the summer drags on, you don’t smile as much.
You thought you knew the way, but you know nothing.
There is no crazy one. Everyone is crazy.
That’s okay. Lick the texture of this day anyway. Girl dinner is fingernails scraping across the evening sky, trying to gain some purchase on the night. Girl breakfast is angst looking fresh for the camera. Girl lunch is the gas-tank aftertaste of infatuation. Girl snack is dragging your ass off the couch to run through the woods again. Girl fun is being alone, not a sex doll, no holes, no protuberances, just a big heart and two big eyes in the mirror that say
EVERYTHING IS FUNNY
MAKE A FIST
BE MORE LIKE ME.