My first girlfriend was a girl named Sara. We’d sit in the preschool hallways, hold hands, and sing “Nightmare Before Christmas” songs to each other. We might have kissed, but I’m not sure and I somehow doubt it. My greatest ambition in life at that time was to marry this girl, live in my parents basement, and raise a child of our own.
(I know what you’re thinking: Babies having babies…)
My second girlfriend was a basketball named Tina.
The second girlfriend is much harder to explain than the first, probably because she wasn’t actually a girl or a friend or a human being at all. But I remember buying a perfectly orange, glossy basketball and really having no love for basketball, but having affection for the ball itself. Deciding that orange indicated the pigment of her tan, deciding that the only way I’d make it through basketball practice (boys becoming men!) was if I had this girl named Tina by my side.
So I’d fantasize that my future wife would be some girl named Tina that I’d meet. I thought about who she might be, what she’d fantasize about; how she was just like me, sort of, pining in the night for some boy who loved monsters instead of sports, singing “Nightmare Before Christmas” songs to herself.
Of course, this “Tina” I was fantasizing about (and had somehow transmogrified into a basketball) was really just me in drag. I guess I wanted a companion to share in my solipsism, not an actual partner to complicate me, challenge me, grow with me. A projection of my own design. I was the original Pygmalian. Henry Higgins with a thing for ribbed orange rubber. Tina was great because I knew every possible thing about her. Her deep, dark mysteries…well, I’d already charted them. The shadows hid what I already knew.
On the one hand, I look back on this weird episode from childhood and recognize stubborn seeds of creativity, trying to grow in the cracked concrete of the basketball court. Around the broken glass, beneath the chain link net. I mean, Tina the Basketball isn’t so different from G.I. Joe and his squeeze, Barbie, right? (In my world she was his squeeze, but I’ve been told she had adventures of her own). Mighty Max and his debutante, Polly Pocket.
It’s like kids who have Synesthesia and struggle with math because they’ve given ten and two personalities, and know that those numbers will actually never equal twelve, despite what everyone says, because ten (God love him) is just too stubborn and kind of refuses to grow up, and two wants babies Right Now. Monogamous twelve is what they want, but they might have to settle for less.
You see what I’m saying?
Better analogy: it’s like kids who have imaginary friends. And imaginary friends…they grow up and become the characters you write about in books, don’t they? Mixed together, of course, with people you actually know. Real Life Friends and Imaginary Friends sitting in a tree.
(Babies making fake babies…)
On the other hand, I look back on this episode from childhood and realize I was doing what everybody does at one point or another: participating in objectification.
Don’t groan and roll your eyes. I couldn’t think of a better example of objectification if you had a shotgun in my mouth.
I mean, I’d literally turned this ideal female into a basketball. And there were plenty of actual females around me that I could have tried to know, but I didn’t care about any of them, because I was dating a basketball.
You know those salty, scarred up European explorers who sailed the world, found new lands, slaughtered the populations who lived there originally? Those dudes sailed in ships with ladies’ names. They were grown ass men, and they were all, in one way or another, dating Tina the Basketball.
It’s really not so bad. My current girlfriend (actual human with pulse, heart, and brain) has a car she’s named Smithers, and while I don’t think she’s dating him behind my back (I’m pretty sure the car is gay), she’s kind of like Magellan cruising around in his Victoria.
So we’re human. We like naming things. We like giving them personalities, to accompany us on dark, lonely trips (and what was crossing the Atlantic but one long dark lonely trip?). Some of us go to art school. Some of us are psychotic enough to lock ourselves in rooms and write about these fake people for days and days on end, allow them to interact with each other, spend great deals of very intimate time with them. Sometimes we even allow them to kill each other.
(Here’s a plug for my book, Halloween Sweets, by the way…you can buy it and spend a great deal of time with my imaginary friends, too!)
But some of us…some of us are content just giving names to house hold items and dating them.
Like these dudes in Japan who are dating pillows. I don’t mean to pick on them, but…
Look, I don’t know why they’ve decided to start dating pillows. I don’t know why anyone thinks that’s a good idea. I get that it’s hard to meet people in real life. I get that connecting with other people just might be the most terrifying thing you could ever do.
I also get that human societies of all stripes have a mean obsession with monogamy, prizing it as maybe the only legitimate kind of human connection a person could make. They put a lot of pressure on that, since you’re a wee little tot sucking down Disney movies with Princes and Princesses getting all kinds of frisky at the expense of any kind of legitimate connection with other people. Sure, your protagonist always had a snappy Flounder or Zazu or Eddie Murphy Dragon to aid them on their quest, and the narratives always at least pay lip service to friendship.
But hot, spicy, guy on gal monogamy has always been the order of the day, the only antidote to cure sadness, and if you’re even a little apprehensive about trying to achieve that (and you kind of should be, because society has stapled a bomb to your numerical age, and each year you get older, that clock ticks closer to zero, and that bomb says if you ain’t shacked you might as well be dead, and don’t even get it STARTED on what might happen if you don’t identify as straight, or as your biological gender)…well, I could see getting freaked out by that, and burrowing into a kind of self-injurious pit where dating your pillow seems better than being alone.
But Jeeze, what did we have to do to people to force them to end up there?
Couldn’t we have said, “Having friends is great. Get married or don’t, but have people in your life.” Knowing people…really knowing people. That’s a kind of romance in and of itself, at least as legitimate as monogamous marriage, if not more so.
Obviously more legitimate than dating a pillow (sorry), or a BASKETBALL, because then you’re essentially just dating yourself.
Of course, we don’t just romantically project onto pillows and basketballs.
We do this to real people, too.
There was a poor little orphan from Los Angeles, who read all the time but seemed to never finish any books (according to Arthur Miller). Her name was Norma Jean, but we gave her another one: Marilyn Monroe, our human basketball and now, 63 years after her death, you can walk down the boardwalk at any beach in America and see her lovely visage on T-Shirts where she’s brandishing a gun, or smoking pot, or covered from head to toe in tattoos like a kind of Christy Mack from the 50s, still this perfect image for us to project anything we want onto, still just as lively and vibrant from the grave as she was while she was alive. Still, basically, a perfect image. An impenetrable blank for us to dump our guts into. A sponge for the more feminized parts of our personalities, maybe, that we can’t seem to get out anywhere else, and we can’t seem to find reflected back at us in romantic partners, either.
Our favorite object, who aggravated everyone around her when she started having a personality of her own. I can’t imagine if Tina hadn’t wanted to play basketball with me. If she’d wanted to read her own books, meet her own friends, explore her own romantic trajectory.
It’s difficult to imagine objects doing that; wanting anything at all. Almost aggravating.
Poor Tina would have surely deflated herself, wouldn’t she? And yes, it would have been my fault.
And yes, I would have bought a new basketball, hopefully with less personality this time. Because really, I just wanted to use her to sink holes in the first place, maybe accompany me on dark, lonely journeys.
I wanted her to be another me, that I could cuddle and dream about, but a version of myself all the same.
It kills us to think that Marilyn Monroe maybe wasn’t us. Really, she was just her.
I wonder sometimes if Marilyn Monroe would have been happier if she’d lived in the age of the internet (and really, this is the whole reason I’m writing all of this). Sure, it would have driven everyone crazy, and her star would probably have dropped along with her mystique, when she Instagrammed pictures of herself in bed without make-up, looking tired and sleep deprived, saying things like, “Too tired to get out of bed today,” and people would have understood. Sometimes we’re too tired to get out of bed, too.
Her take-out Chinese food, her crush on President Kennedy; her pets, her dreams. Stupid, inane inside jokes only a close knit group could understand. The little things that made her different than us. The little things that made her the same.
She could have Instagrammed the books she couldn’t bring herself to finish. We could have liked them or hated them, but recognized that stubborn individuality, and maybe not been so successful in snuffing it out.
There’s a modern day equivalent, believe it or not, and you’re not gonna like me for saying it. But there was another little girl that we gave a fake name to and wanted desperately for her to be one thing. The only difference is she ripped that fake name (and image) to shreds, and now Hannah Montana is (yes) Miley Cyrus, and the fact that she isn’t Hannah Montana anymore drives people crazy.
Pygmalian created a Frankenstein with Miley Cyrus, and it’s awesome. Tina the Wrecking Ball, Instagramming her obsession with pizza, tongue dropped down to her chin, lasers photoshopped out of her eyes (really, if you don’t follow Miley Cyrus on Instagram, you’re doing yourself a horrible disservice). She isn’t what other people would like her to be. More power to her.
So she’s not as mysterious as Marilyn Monroe. Certainly not as quiet, not as polite, certainly more hated (for all I know, you hate her, and hate me now for writing about her this way).
But it’s better to live in a world of Miley Cyruses than it is to live in a world of Marilyn Monroes. By a mile.
People shouldn’t be art. They should make it, but they shouldn’t be it. Idolatry is frowned upon in Christianity because it’s turning God into an object, and he don’t like that either.
If God had an Instagram, he’d tell you as much, disheveled and groggy at 7 am on a Sunday after making the Earth, pizza boxes open from last night, typing, “2Day don’t feel like doing ANYTHANG.”
Day of rest. We all might find the Instagram user with the username “GOD” annoying. His constant (probable) obsesion with cats, his revelation that we’d gendered him male, but he was actually GOD and really didn’t fit into such little boxes.
Yeah, God would drive us all crazy, but would still be more human than that plastic crucifix on the wall.