Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Am Whoever Facebook Says I Am

Has social media ever made you feel less popular than you are in your real life?  It's done that to me.  Sure, I have the standard-issue many hundreds more Facebook associates than any human should really have and a decent Twitter following and more people with me on their Instagram feed than I have on my own, but I am confident that people don't like me on the internet.  Weird, eh?  Weird that I have come to this conclusion, that I have thought about it at all, that I have evidence, even, to back my statement up.  

Maybe what I mean is people don't necessarily publicly support me on social media.  I write a daily blog that involves some "audience participation," and maybe 20% of my viewing audience actually plays along. I know people are reading because, one, I can see the stats, and, two, people tell me they are and can prove it by being able to converse with me in person about it -- but these same people can't or won't take the two seconds required to click the "like" button on their Facebook newsfeed -- and I find it fascinating and mysterious and baffling all at once.  What makes someone take those two seconds -- what makes it worth it?  What makes it not worth it when it comes to me?  The only logical conclusion is, of course, that I am not very popular.  Either that or I just suck at Facebook.  

Kindly do cue the violins, please.

Or better yet, read on...  Recently, my friend Jenn posted an article called "I Quit Liking Things on Facebook for Two Weeks.  Here's How It Changed My View of Humanity."  The author did just as the title suggested and found it not only changed her entire Facebook experience but it changed her newsfeed as well.  She talks about feeling guilty at first for not clicking the "like" button -- as if she were withholding support -- but then found it more satisfying to post an actual comment about why she liked what she was seeing.  It "brought the humanity back to Facebook."  It also prevented the Mighty Facebook Algorithm from overrunning her newsfeed with stuff that wasn't interesting to her.  Goddamn if I don't LIKE the hell outta this!  Since reading the article, I have "liked" maybe three posts on Facebook and winced a moment later.  I need to do this challenge myself -- I need to take my newsfeed back!  What ARE my friends up to, anyway? 

Because, as we all know, every time we log in, Facebook asks the same question:  What's on your mind?  I guess this is what's on mine and has been for quite some time -- how and why and who and when?  How do people interpret this seemingly innocent question -- do people even think about it before they post an update or add a photo?  Why do people feel compelled to answer it -- who do they hope will see what they post and when do they decide it's time to answer this question, ever present and ever ready for whatever you want to throw at it.  I can answer these questions for myself -- I interpret the question as an easy prompt to get you to say anything at all (the brilliance is in its innocence and simplicity); I feel compelled to answer it when I want to "think out loud" and hope someone will hear it; I hope people who care about me will see it (which of the hundreds of you do?); I post when I want some validation, plain and simple.  Maybe you would answer these questions differently than me -- I'm sure Facebook knows there are an untold number of different answers, anything to spark the debate and keep the conversation flowing.  Maybe Facebook doesn't even have to care anymore, though, really, since we're our own self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you build it, they will come.  In droves.  Forever.

I am not a sociologist, but much in the same way George Costanza always looks for an excuse to pretend he's an architect, I boast of my affinity for the field of study and its relevance to, well, everything human.  Social media is a whole new and rapidly changing mode for humans to gather, to form groups, to include or exclude, to define.  To quote Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, "Scientists were so busy figuring out if they could, they never stopped to think about if they should."  Builders of social networks are turning into the same sort of Dr. Frankenstein-brand mad scientists who have made the technology accessible to anyone with basic computer skills to manipulate in whatever way he or she sees fit.  That is an awesome (re: definition -- extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear) responsibility for this "reality tv show" generation where we can be the heroes of our own story, written, directed, and produced by, well, ourselves.  In Facebook we trusted.

And we sure do -- look at how much Facebook dictates social agendas.  We "friend" people -- whether they're actual friends, romantic partners, co-workers, long lost others, relatives, or casual bystanders.  We use words like "Facebook Official" when it comes to life events -- romantic partnerings, pregnancies, births, marriages, new jobs, you name it.  With two different friends, I was involved in debates over when they should announce their pregnancies and engagements To The World -- make their news "FBO."  I have other friends who broke off their romantic relationship and they both stated the most difficult thing about the situation was not packing up and and moving out of their apartment but the night they got together to remove their "In a Relationship" status on Facebook.  This stuff is powerful -- its presence on our newsfeeds carries significant weight.  And that is an astounding truth.

I have almost 900 Facebook friends currently, and I can only use my experience with these individuals to shape my argument.  I have no doubt that your group of friends, be it larger or smaller or exactly the same, might be yielding a different experience for you, and that's cool.  As I've said, I am not a psychologist or sociologist or an -ist of any variety.  I have a BA in English Lit and an MFA in Creative Writing.  This is not a widely researched, scientific study of any kind.  This is an opinion-based piece using the empirical data of my life.  I would like to thank The Internet and Society for giving me permission to do so.  And I would like to thank you for reading.

That is all the disclaimer I will provide.

When I visit my Facebook newsfeed, I find three basic types of contributers:  the personal-over-sharers, the "shamless pluggers," and never sharers.  The "shameless pluggers" I'll come back to and the never sharers need no definition, I'd assume, while the personal-over-sharers are those people who show up repeatedly on my newsfeed -- three, four, eight, twelve times a day -- updating me about what they're having for lunch, what the guy on the train said to them, a selfie to capture how they felt about last night's Game of Thrones, where they're having a drink after work and with whom.  Within this category, they branch into The Comedians, The Illiterates, and The Debbie Downers.  The Comedians are always trying to out-witty themselves and everyone else with their clever puns and their over-the-top anecdotes.  They are funny motherfuckers and you know it because their Facebook wall proves it.  Ad nauseum.  Thought these are easily my favorite group of over-sharers.  The Illiterates can't spell worth shit and never seem to have learned basic grammar, which is insane because many of them I was in school with at some point or other and am fairly certain they took an English class or two.  "UR" does not spell anything, folks.  Stop using it. AND STOP USING ALL CAPS.  IT IS THE LITERARY EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING AND IT FREAKS ME OUT.  And The Debbie Downers, of course, are always asking you to pray for them or their sick cat or other socially awkward things that are the equivalent of "I ask, 'How are you, Person-I-Barely-Know?' and you say, 'Well, Person-I-Also-Barely-Know, I got laid off and my dog died and my mother's in the hospital again and my kid has diarrhea.'"  Oh, um...  I'm sorry to hear that?  Not to say that these people shouldn't have the chance to express their concerns, but maybe not to all one thousand of your Facebook associates?  Maybe there are people close to you who should hear this and not the rest of us?  I know for a personal fact it's possible to be going through hell and keep it offline.  Airing your sad or dirty laundry to the masses probably isn't going to heal you the way you want.  At least I know it wouldn't heal me.  

I was chatting with my friend Elliott the other day about how I was writing this post and how when I was fairly young, my mother had warned me, pretty sternly, to be very very careful about what I chose to put in writing because you cannot take that back.  What you put in writing is forever.  You can say things in the heat of any moment and while those things can certainly have a lasting effect, the memory of how that shit went down will change over time until it completely fades or has distorted enough that its reliability isn't so grand anymore.  But the things you write down can be read over and over and over again.  And things you write on the internet?  There's no eraser big enough to destroy that evidence.  Think about that before you post.  This is your legacy.

When I first got involved in social media, it was MySpace and I was way late to the party.  Facebook was already in existence but just for college students, so we civilians were busy ranking our friends in order of favorite to least favorite and choosing songs for our profiles and all I could think about was how insanely glad I was that such a site didn't exist when I was a teenager.  I could picture all the drama of shifting your friends in and out of your "Top Ten" according to a childish whim and the whiplash of hurt or flood of joy it could cause, depending on whether you were in or out.  I actually remember one of my friends who would find out if he and his girlfriend had broken up (again) or not based on whether he was her #1 Friend or not in the ranks at all.  AND THESE WERE ADULTS.  Shit.  Kids wouldn't stand a chance if adults couldn't be mature about it.  I think by the end of my MySpace time, I only had local bands I liked as my "Top Friends" and by then it didn't matter because everyone had made the jump to The Facebook.

Yeah, I called it The Facebook.  Deal.

My friends Whitney and Tom laid the most pressure on me to make the switch and when I finally did, I was initially pretty underwhelmed by this social media promised land.  Of course, this was in 2008 and the Facebook landscape has changed drastically since then.  I did soon discover, however, that every single person I'd so much as gone to summer camp with was on this site -- and it was easy to find them because they used their real names instead of screen names like on MySpace (where I was "TheBigBad" for most of my tenure).  Before I knew it, I was reconnecting with people I hadn't seen since my childhood and there was a sense of delight about it.  It didn't take long for me to amass over 200 "friends" and then over four hundred and so on...  I think the maximum number of connections I had on MySpace was maybe 170 and I thought that was absurd -- "Who knows that many people?" I had huffed -- yet on Facebook my number climbed rapidly and easily -- and continues to do so to this day.  I am fairly liberal about who I add as a "friend" and whose friend requests I'll accept -- but that is because of the type of sharer I am -- the "shameless plugger."  I like my posts to benefit the greater good -- promoting a friend's band, an event that is local and awesome, my place of work, and, most recently, my own writing.  The Shameless Plug is meant to support something or someone that is near and dear to my heart.  And the bigger the audience, the more chances there are for people to click on the link or listen to the song or at least have heard of [insert name of personplaceorthing being plugged], and for me, that is the good of the media.  Malcolm Gladwell said it best in The Tipping Point:

"Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics. In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It might seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push -- in just the right place -- it can be tipped."

Be that change you wish to see in the world.  Bring those hidden treasures to the masses.  Shine that light.  It's a grand and personal way to change a tide.  And for me, it's the ONLY reason for social media.

Which isn't to say I didn't also use it to post other things -- funny things that happened or photos I thought were pretty (especially sunsets -- y'all know...), all kinds of things.  But after the advent of the before-mentioned "like" option, I took the slow road to embitterment about what was happening on Facebook -- on my own page and on my newsfeed.  Suddenly the "like" became psychologically powerful and getting "likes" could literally affect moods and become part of the offline dialogue.  I can't tell you how irked I've gotten in the past when someone had said out loud to me, "Oh, I really liked that photo you posted earlier," and I've had to bite back the snarky reply of "Well, technically, you didn't 'like' it."  Shouldn't I be happier that someone has taken the time to speak to me in person about what they saw and share their admiration face-to-face than taken the time to click a button on the internet that essentially means nothing?  Well, yeah, I should, but I wasn't.  And I hated that about myself.  I hated that my reaction was to decide this person didn't want others to know he or she liked what I was posting -- where people could see the public approval -- and that I needed to get a fucking grip.  So this winter I all but stopped posting things on Facebook.  I kept posting The Untitled Blog's daily posts because this choose-your-own-adventure story's voting happened via The Book.  But all of my other posting stopped.

And it was interesting.

People started asking me what was wrong, why I wasn't going out anymore, if I was feeling OK.  At the start of each of these conversations, I was incredibly confused and then immediately understood -- I wasn't telling my Facebook audience what I was doing so they thought I'd gone into early retirement.  Nope.  I just wasn't publishing what I was doing anymore.  And the ironic part, friends, is because you weren't validating me enough to make it worth it.

How insane is that bag of apples?

Some people have no problem getting their every whim validated by the admiring hoard.  Anything they post immediately gets a host of likes and a long list of comments.  Some of these people are "local celebrities" of some variety (on the music scene, for example) and I don't really count them in the commentary to follow because the odds are decent that many of the interactors are looking to be noticed by a musician (etc) who they may never have actually even met.  I am talking about everyday folks that are as much a celebrity as I am.  I was out having drinks with my friends Anne and Leslie the other night and we were joking about this topic a bit and I was saying, "I could cure cancer and maybe twelve people would bother to 'like' it," to which Les quipped, "And then you'd write a book about your discovery..." to which I replied, "And that would get probably fourteen likes."  Yeah, OK, I know, I'm being overly dramatic about it.  But it's hard not to get sarcastic about it when I see statuses that are about as banal as you can get or out of focus photographs with a host of people interacting with them while I post something I think has some depths and it's radio silence.  No one.  I don't know much but I do know that there isn't a single person who posts something on Facebook and doesn't want someone to interact with it.  Anyone.  Hello, is this thing on??  Why post it otherwise?  There are plenty of articles I read or videos I watch that I don't post -- so if I'm posting it on my wall, I'm certainly looking for commentary or approval or, hell, even disapproval.  Something.  And it's only that much more frustrating when other people post things that don't seem to be very interesting yet they get a ton of response.  And it's even WORSE when the gross-overshares (we don't EVER need to hear about your burning bowel movements, chunky barf, picked scabs, or picked noses, thank you very very much) are positively reinforced.  YES PLEASE FILL MY NEWSFEED WITH ALL OF YOUR DISGUSTINGNESS AND IMMATURITY.  PLEASE AND THANK YOU.  Yeah, I'm sorry for your discomfort, but there is such a thing as too much information and we all need to be pals and accept those text messages, emails, and phone calls, but not those Facebook posts.  Make the world a better place.

And that is exactly what some people like you to believe they are doing.  I have two friends in particular who do this on the regular and I like both of them so much in person that I wish I had never met their Facebook personas.  Not surprisingly, these people are typically over-sharers, but there's a brand of them who do so in a sneaky and manipulative way.  They tag a lot of people in their posts (which practically guarantees at least that selected group of people will like it) and/or they use manipulative language designed to make the casual reader feel that they are certainly an asshole if they don't click the like button.  Usually, these posts are long and full of flowery language about changing the world or empowerment or being brave or self-sufficient -- and so on and so forth.  I see these posts, posted fifteen minutes ago and already with 25 likes, and all I really see is through them.  This person wants -- needs -- validation about this life decision, whether big or small, and they have learned how to get it from Facebook.  Buzzwords.  Because if you don't like that this person has achieved or overcome or reinvented, then you are certainly an asshole.  Yeah, OK, then I'm an asshole, because I believe you can reinvent and overcome and achieve, but not with the frequency these people do.  And how often are these people talkers and not doers?  Almost always.  Have these ideas and thoughts -- be empowered and brave and successful.  I like the hell out of all of these things.  But being this person solely on Facebook is sad and almost the opposite of all those strong words.  I've said it once and I'll say it again -- be the change.  Be it.

And maybe think a little before you post -- if your friend list looks anything like mine, then you've got an assortment of people close to you now who are likely the demographic you are intending as your audience.  But you probably also have older relatives or family friends or people you haven't seen since summer camp or maybe even younger kids -- teenagers, your friend's children.  My boss' two 'tweenage sons are on my list.  I try to keep profanity at a minimum and, in general, ask myself if I'm cool with EVERYONE on my list seeing this post. The same goes with commenting.  Give yourself that three seconds to consider if you really want to say what you're about to say.  And, for the love of all that is good and holy, if you are a parent, please think before you post about your children.  How would you feel if your parents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, anyone posted about your bowel movements or anything else that should be kept "in the family" -- these kids growing up today will never know what privacy is.  Their entire lives are already being played out for the entertainment of a largely unmonitored audience and I am thankful every day that such social media didn't exist when I was growing up.  It's hard enough being an adult and dealing with the repercussions of social media -- I don't know how in the heck teenagers are supposed to understand how to use it properly.  

Unless comedian Pete Holmes is right and The Government invented Facebook:

"I think the government made Facebook in an attempt to make privacy uncool. Think about that. I think that's true 'cause they don't have to tap our phones or survey us when we just yield to them everything, just on our own free will. Home address? It's a little weird, OK. Phone number? Call me. Photos? Photos of everyone I know? Here, let me tag those for you."

This is an age where everyone lives online -- Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr, Twitter, blogs, websites, so on, so forth...  How you represent yourself carries weight -- it can prevent you from getting hired, it can get you fired.  I am linked to a number of business-related Facebook pages and I am strongly aware that anyone who follows those pages can easily find my personal page so I keep that in mind when I'm updating my cover photo or my profile picture.  I keep that in mind when I write my daily blog and when I accept friend requests.  I understand when and where privacy settings can and should be used -- they're always the first thing I explore when joining a new social medium.  I try to keep it positive and avoid passive-aggessiveness.  If I come across something that I think someone specific will like, I tend to post it directly on his or her page with a note about why it made me think of them instead of posting it on my page and hoping the intended audience checks it out.  It's a nice treat when someone posts on my wall -- it happens so rarely anymore -- so I like to give that tiny thinking-of-you nod to my friends whenever possible.

Facebook should be used for that kind of thing -- to connect with your actual friends and spark a conversation about something newsworthy or creative or celebratory or just plain silly.  It should be used to reconnect with people who you can no longer see in person because of time or distance or the other follies of life.  It's a great way to get quick advice and recommendations from a group of your peers.  One of the greatest things Facebook has done for me is remind me how many people out there remember and support my writing.  Readers, man, I can't love you more!  Every time I consider deactivating my account (which happens pretty regularly), I stop myself almost solely for my writing.  I enjoy sharing what I'm working on with whoever opts to read along -- which is another reason it's almost the only thing I ever post anymore.  

And then, of course, there's Facebook Events.  It's almost the only way you know anyone is playing a show or having a party or doing a thing of any kind -- ahh, look! You're invited.  I always RSVP to every event I am invited to because I know how important it is for the host to know who to expect -- but your yes-no-maybe-so reply is about as meaningless as it can get.  Maybe twenty people say they're coming, but seven people show up -- or maybe seven people say they're coming but twenty show up!  People have become so blissfully casual about simple politeness and etiquette when it comes to such things and I can't help but wonder if it's because so many invitations come by way of Facebook where some users could be inundated on a daily basis with people requesting the honor of their presence at any of a variety of venues.  And while it may not be super necessary to reply to every invitation with total sincerity, it's probably nice to do so when it will make a difference to the host.  I've even noticed that people are more casual about responding to such invitations even when sent via email these days -- is it The Facebook Effect or merely the malaise of a generation?

I often refer to Facebook as a "necessary evil."  It has a job to do, just like any tool we use on a regular basis.  If you're one of those people who don't use it, I don't understand you.  You're like a cash-only bar.  Huh?  What's the point of that?  If you have privacy concerns or issues, be aware of your privacy settings and remember you only have to provide information you want.  You can make yourself unsearchable.  You can control who is on your friend list and what each of those people can see or do on your wall.  If you're one of those "never sharers," you can never share as much as you want.  At least you'll still be able to see those adorable photos of your nieces that your sister is always posting -- at least you'll be in the loop, lurking away to your heart's content.   No one will ever know.  

And regardless of how frequent a poster you are, I am still curious about you -- what makes you want to comment or "like" something?  And on the other side of it, what makes you see something and not say something?  Why do people want to tell me what I've posted and not comment on it on Facebook?  I am endlessly curious and deeply fascinated by this entire virtual social world.  

Because in the immortal words of Marshall Mathers, "I am whatever you say I am.  If I wasn't, then why would you say I am?"  Our personas are shaped by our real lives, of course, but also by the quality of our experience online.  And even that is two-fold -- there's how I represent myself and there's how much you, my "friends," validate what I am saying by interacting with me.  Interactions tell me things -- that you see me, that I'm worth your time; what you "like" tells me what you are willing to admit that you "like" about me -- and I post on Facebook to know that.  And if that sounds crazy to you, ask yourself why you post anything you post.  Maybe there are some people who genuinely post without any hope or expectation that someone will get involved -- but also, I doubt that.  And if you are such a person, explain yourself.  I have so many questions.

And I am looking to have a continued conversation about Facebook and other social media and how you use it and why and when and what you are hoping to get out of it.  How much do you think about it?  How often does it sway your opinion and how do you feel about the power it holds over you or those around you?  What have I said that sounds right and what have I said that sounds opposite of your experience?  The beauty is there is no singular answer.

So go ahead.  Make my day.  Tell me -- what's on your mind?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poems About Strangers

From Out of Nowhere

He's beside me
out of the thinnest of air
saying You've forgotten
your smile.  There -- reminded --
smiling once more.  He walks
in stride with me
as if we'd set off on this journey
together and he says he knows
I'm not from around here
because he can see I'm a free
spirit on hallowed Harvard ground.
He says if I like music than I like poetry
and he recites a verse he says he conjured
just for me in these moments together.
By the end, he's confessed his love
for me until an undying age and asks
if I love him, too.  Part of me does,
but the words are lost in the fading daylight
hours as we continue together
for blocks on end and he tells me
he's been to one hundred and twenty countries
and speaks fifteen fluent languages
but he's never traveled anywhere
with a beauty more exotic than mine.
My Midwestern self throws my head back
in laughter and even though it's surely
a line, I let it hook me, anyway.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wolfstar Press

Please visit for a modern day view of what's up with me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Neverland, Ohio is now available!

Hi Family and Friends!

At long last I have completed my novel!! Neverland, Ohio started out as Ridgewood Stories (aka my Emerson MFA Thesis) and nearly a decade after I wrote the first word, I am pleased to present the finished product. It's now available in both print and ereader versions, so spread the word!

Thanks for all the support :)


Neverland, Ohio is a novel about all matters of love and death, family and friends. What begins as a love triangle between brothers Sam and Ben and their neighbor Anna becomes a profound coming-of-age story when Ben is killed in a hit and run accident.


Print and ePub


(the lulu link should work but it will be available on the Barnes and Noble website over the next day or two -- I will update it on here when it's live on that site)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Visit My Other Blog!

My new year's resolution has been to write every day -- check out how that's going.

Monday, February 14, 2011

None of This is the Present (fiction)

“You don’t like beaches,” she said. “That’s the reason this will never work out.”

He smiled wanly and forced a laugh. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”

She brushed her fingers across his forehead, pushing a stray strand of hair out of his eyes and thought about how many times she’d used that line after half a lifetime together. It was true and false all in the same instant and she chose to think about those sorts of trivial generalities now that he was lying in a hospice bed, waiting for the stomach cancer to win.

Before she sat down to write this story, she had considered giving him something else, another kind of terminal disease, had leaned heavily on the car accident possibility but her own sixth sense told her that she was going to be killed someday in a car accident and she didn’t want that irony to be reflected on her telling of his passing. Instead she waffled back and forth between some kind of cancer and some kind of illness caused from years of hard living, something like emphysema or clotted arteries. She gave him cancer because it was the disease she was meant to die from but wouldn’t. Just like he was the man she was meant to avoid but wouldn’t.

His name was Paul or John or Richard or George, a generic man-name, not important. She thought about literary students puzzling over the post-reading quiz, the Who are the characters in the story? question and not remembering if his name was Bill or Brian or Chris or Tom. It didn’t matter, it didn’t matter, even though names can carry such great meaning -- like William means the guardian or Thomas the twin or George the farmer. To her, though, it didn’t matter what his name was, only that he was real, more real than any other person she’d ever known in her long life.

She was older than him and she was going to outlive him and she could barely breathe just thinking about it. There was nothing she wanted more than to trade places with him, to put herself in the position of ending, just to save his life, just to keep him going. He was important to so many people, more than just her, and she thought it might be the most important thing she could do to keep him in the present.

But none of this is in the present. It’s scattered through time, like each of their body’s ashes after the cancer ate his gut. after the car left her to bleed internally.

She remembered a night, before they were lovers, before they knew what love was all about, where he’d tugged at her shirt and asked her if she wanted to fuck. She’d said no then. Instead, she’d directed him to the piano and asked him to play and he did.

“Your day breaks, your mind aches, you find that all her words of kindness linger on when she no longer needs you…” He sang and she sang along. Neither of them knew all the words to that Beatles song or any of the others they sang that night, but that didn‘t matter. Plus, she still needed him, despite his song choice, despite her emphatic no. And he still needed her.

It was the start of something.

He said he had chosen to move to the hospice care facility instead of staying in their home because he didn’t want her to look at their bed and think, he died there. Even if he’d died on the couch. Or in the tub. Or slumped at the kitchen table. He didn’t want to die there. She knew that and she respected it but she would still look at their bed and think, he died. He couldn’t save her from that.

“You know that your garden is going straight to hell right now,” she said.

“That’s why this will never work out,” he countered. “You’re a terrible gardener.”

She laughed like only she could laugh, without reservation, and pressed her hands flat on the bed next to him. “We should probably break up now.”

They weren’t married, hadn’t ever seen the point of it, but she wished she was by his side now as a wife. She wasn’t sure how that would make this all different but she knew that it would and she knew that it would be better to have that silly Mrs. in front of her name. Legally, she was the one responsible for his affairs once the end came, but that made it all so sterile, so unlike their life together. Like she was a guardian, someone appointed by the family or the state, not someone who was family, who had a moral responsibility. She had thought about asking him to marry her before he died, but she knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. They weren’t meant to be married. Their relationship had endured because they weren’t.

For instance, if they’d been married and she’d come home to find him fucking a groupie out by the pool, she might have had to ask for a divorce and it would be messy and expensive and all over the news. But since they weren’t married, she could simply tell him she needed some time and go stay in the city for awhile until they could find their way back to each other, quietly and naturally, without media and lawyers and paperwork.

She liked to think of him as Odysseus and herself as Penelope. Odysseus was seduced by many a nymph but he only loved Penelope. The whole time he traveled, he sang about his love, his undying love, for his wife, his one true soul mate, even when he fucked another woman, even when he betrayed her, he only loved her, and she knew she was Penelope and he was Odysseus, that no matter who he fucked on the side, he only loved her. And that was why she’d turned down his three marriage proposals, that’s why she’d tell him she had to leave for awhile, that’s why she always came back. She was like Penelope, weaving on the loom, avoiding other men because she knew, in her heart, that Odysseus would come home to her, always. And he did.

She had a different sensibility than him. She never strayed. never looked at another man with serious temptation. Her body belonged to him, she didn’t need anyone else’s finger prints on it. She never did. No one else ever mattered. Not even before they were lovers. Not even before they knew exactly how lucky they were. And it’s because she knew, could recognize, how blessed she was that she put up with the other women, the sirens, the nymphs, because they were part of his journey.

Once, before they were lovers, she’d settled in with another man and when she'd glance at her phone to see if this other man had called, he’d tap her on the arm and asked, What are you doing? You’re not leaving. She’d smiled and assured him she wasn’t going anywhere.

She wasn’t going anywhere.

He reached up and touched her face, softly, along the chin line, the way that only he could, and he said, “I love you.” She pulled herself, mind and body, back into the room and she said, “I love you, too.”

She had always loved him on some level. She’d taken to telling him that from the moment that she realized it, even when his current girlfriend was within earshot, even when her current boyfriend was within earshot, she’d say it, loudly, meaningfully, with her arms wrapped as tightly around him as she could. I love you, she’d say. I love you. He always loved her, too, on some level. It just took him longer to say so. Looking back, she didn't know why it took them so long to find the straight path to each other, but it did.

Looking back, she didn’t know why it took her so long to do a lot of things.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey there, why are you crying? I’m the one who’s dying.”

She hadn’t realized she was crying but when she touched her cheek she could feel the wet streak. “Yeah, but I’m the one who’s going to have to deal with Benny when you’re gone.”

“That is a reason to cry,” he said.

Benny was his agent, a small, nervous, shrewd businessman who’d built him into a musical phenomenon. She already knew he was one, so did everyone who ever saw him perform, but Benny made it global. No one attacked the keys like her man and Benny made sure everyone knew.

Later when she sat down to write this story, she thought about the early days, long before Benny or the world knew about him, even before he was hers, and she loved how pure life was then. Here we are with our day jobs, part of the grind. Here we are part of the night life, part of the scene. This is how she met him, this is how she knew him, this is how she loved him. Looking back, she had the most nostalgia for those days, even though their life together was intense and wonderful, because in those days he’d been a man on a stage in a bar that was almost always half empty and just the close friends and familiar faces lined the walls and gathered near the stage. Where everybody knows your name. She grew to miss those days after he was plucked from obscurity, she along with him. As she wrote this story, she wanted to infuse that sense of purity that accompanied them at the beginning because that was really their essence, not the hoopla and glory, although those days were shimmering in her mind, too. How to fuse consciousness, she didn’t exactly know.

She was learning that the recreation of these events was expansive, more expansive than anything she’d ever dared tackle before.

Before she sat down to write, she sat by his hospice bed and hummed songs by The Beatles and Queen and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beethoven. She’d told him stories from their past, as if he hadn’t been there, as if she wanted to include him in his own history. He was forgetting things, she could tell, and she thought that must be part of dying: letting go of everything past and present. She wasn’t ready for that yet, not for him, not for her, so she kept talking, even when he’d fall asleep and snore lightly as she laughed over mishaps at gigs, extravagant parties, intimate moments between them.

Her favorite moment was the one where she realized that he was exactly what she wanted, a moment that came years after she knew she loved him but not yet to the full extreme. She told this story to him often and it always made him smile; she was sure he remembered it even without her telling, but she’d go on anyway.

“That night, we’d met at the bar, listened to the band, gotten drunk with our friends, and gone home together. Into your apartment and into your bed, but just to sleep. And in the morning, you got up first and then I followed suit and we sat together and talked about nothing important for the longest time. And then you looked at me and asked what I was up to that day and I saw it on your face, that change I was feeling. I told you that you were part of my plans for the day. You nodded and said let’s go and off we went to errands and lunch and a strange sense of intimacy fell over me in those hours together, an intimacy that I had been missing my entire life. And when I had to go, you hugged me so tightly I could barely breathe and we said our goodbyes until later and I walked away, stunned.”

Whenever she got to the end of the story, she’d feel the same old glow that she’d felt that afternoon, so many years ago, and she’d omit the balance of that story, the awkward strain of guilt she’d felt meeting up with him that night, him and his girlfriend at the time, a woman she liked, him and his girlfriend and another of their friends. Four adults around a table. He sat across from her and stared at her intently and she’d not known how to act. She never retold this part of the story because it reminded her of the darker side of their relationship. No one needed to be reminded of that while waiting for something final to happen in a hospice.

Before she’d considered writing this story, she’d made a conscious decision not to tell the entire story of their life together, not to the world. Close friends, they knew, they shook their heads and they held their breath, but they also saw the reverse, the good times, the moments of sheer ecstasy that almost validated the infidelities, the days of disappearing, the overt abuse of drugs and alcohol. Everyone has his own demons. Everyone has things to overcome.

Her greatest demon was him and everyone knew it.

Sitting beside him now, she knew that she’d made the right decision to stick with him all these years. Later when she would write this story, she wanted to make sure that was ultimately clear: this was their correct path.

“Do you remember the second time you asked me to marry you?” she asked.

He swallowed hard and said, “Mmm hmm. Mostly I remember you saying no.”

“Yes, but do you remember what I said?”

“You said you loved me too much to marry me. You said that you were too happy with the way things were to accept the ring I was offering.” He looked at her with a tiny smile. “You said the test came back negative.”

She giggled and nodded to confirm his accurate re-telling. “I was so sure that I was pregnant that time,” she said.

“You know that’s not the reason I bought you a diamond,” he said quietly.

She blinked.

She knew that. She knew that he’d meant it each time he’d asked and she knew she’d meant it each time she’d declined. For a fleeting moment, she always considered saying yes, she’d even considered asking him once or twice, like now in the hospice, but something always stopped her.

Her father was a fireman and had been killed on the job when she was young and her mother had never remarried. Her mother had spent the rest of her life mourning a man who was flawed but good. She had grown up watching her mother do everything alone, raise her children, clean storm drains, practice yoga. So she had grown up believing that her mother’s way was both foolish and necessary and when she came of age, she saw relationships as risks too steep to take. He’ll either leave me for someone else or he’ll leave me for no one else or he’ll die, like my father, she thought. Perhaps by way of self-fulfilling prophecy, she was correct about men leaving her until she finally gave in to him. But even though she was closer to him than anyone else, she still didn’t trust he wasn’t going to leave.

He strayed, but he never left.

Once after a particularly bad nymph encounter, she had stayed in the city for two months and worked on a play. She loved that kind of writing, for the stage, open for interpretation, ready for direction. The play was about a man who loved a woman who wouldn’t let herself love him back. At the end, the man kisses her on a dark stage under a single spotlight and he says, “If you only could.” The woman looks at him and says, “If you only could,” and she walks away, leaving him alone under that stark white light. She cried the entire time she wrote that scene and she never turned the play over to her agent. Instead, she banged out countless short stories and set to work on a short volume of poetry before settling in on a new screenplay about the life of Emily Dickinson.

He came to see her at least once a week during that two month separation, never begging her to come home but offering simple reminders of how much he loved her and making sure she had food in the refrigerator.

“I’m not a child,” she’d say.

“I’m not a parent,” he’d counter as he opened a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass.

Before he’d leave, each time he’d ask her if she was coming home with him that day. Each time she’d stared coolly at him and shook her head and waited until his car was well out of view before she’d slump on the floor and cry. But at the end of the two months when he asked, she said, “Yes, I think so,” and they’d gotten in his car together and driven home and made love for as long as they both had the energy.

She was a Gemini and sometimes she thought this explained it all. Gemini is the Twin sign in the zodiac and they often spend their lives looking outside of themselves to find their twin. She was a textbook Gemini and often chuckled over this small fact about her sign. Until she met him. Somewhere along the way, soon after she’d met him, something calming overtook her and she knew -- he was her twin. They were quick to become close friends and the closer they grew, the more she saw him as her mirror, sometimes reflecting her exactly, sometimes reflecting her oppositely, but always reflecting.

Later, when she wrote about it all, she'd leave out the aftermath of losing an entire half of herself. She wouldn't know how completely that had happened until just before the car would strike her down in that parking lot. She wouldn't know until she thought, I haven't been myself lately. Blink of an eye. Done.

"You know what I like best about you. Hey," he said, tugging at her sleeve. "Looky here."

Her face softened but her gaze remained fixed out the window. "Yes, I know," she said. "Me, too."