Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Meaning of (My) Life

It’s now been just over a year since my debut novel, CLOSER TO FINE, was published. For the past twelve months, I’ve done everything possible to cajole both people I know and total strangers to purchase and read my book. I’ve answered the question “What’s your book about” many times, and my answer has started something like this: “Well, it’s about this girl, Alex, and how she tries to cope with her brother’s death, and then her therapist dies and leaves her a note about her life…” Now that I am happily, regularly and publicly working on my next novel, people are asking, “What’s your new book about?” My answer has either been “I can’t (i.e., won’t) talk about it” or “You’ll see.” But today I realized I have a better answer to both questions: “Connections.” Both CLOSER TO FINE and my novel-in-progress are about people connecting with other people.

My life is, literally and figuratively, focused on connections. As an English professor, it is both my hope and my job to connect college students to literature. As a writer, my goal is to connect readers to my characters, my stories, my themes and, ultimately, to me. As a person, I am fascinated, energized, inspired and propelled forward by human connections. I think we all are. Connecting with other people is what makes life remarkable, and prevents it from becoming an endless cycle of work, responsibility and monotony. The cool thing about connecting is that it can happen en masse; when the floor was vibrating and the walls were breathing as Madonna took the stage at a special Roseland Ballroom concert I attended last year, it was because of the electric connection among the small audience. Isn’t that what music is all about? Connecting. In addition to music, art and literature are based on connections as well; they’re all created in the hopes that a song, a painting, a poem or a novel will find a home in the heart of another, or many others. It doesn’t matter what you connect with, as long as you connect. I can listen to Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity” or the Indigo Girls’ “Virginia Woolf” or Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” ten times a day, but someone else might cringe at these songs while obsessively loving three other songs. I’ve connected with these songs (and about thirty others I listen to religiously); you connect with other songs. That’s the magic of connections.

Some people spend a lot of time creating professional connections. Others are serial romantic connectors. There’s no right way to connect, as long as you’re connecting. A lot of people scoff at Facebook and the notion of social networks, but Facebook connected me to people who may have otherwise never heard about my novel—four people from my high school, who I haven’t seen since high school, attended my NYC reading, thanks to my CLOSER TO FINE Facebook page. This blog, in fact, was inspired by Facebook; a few hours ago, a colleague and I were talking about work-related issues, and he mentioned a Facebook status about work I posted last week, while he was on vacation. He didn’t comment on Facebook about it, and I didn’t know he had read it, yet it still connected us a week later. In August, I am meeting a good friend in Europe; after five days together in Amsterdam, we are returning to his apartment in Prague, where I will stay with him for a week. I last saw this friend three years ago, in a bar, for perhaps four hours. Before that, however, I saw him nearly every day for two years. We first bonded, or connected, over a shared love of our favorite fluff (i.e., cheesy) novel (STORY OF MY LIFE by Jay McInerney, if you’re wondering). A year after this initial connection, a phone call on a crisp, sunny September morning connected us for the rest of our lives; it was he who called me at 9 AM on September 11th and told me to turn on the TV. Together—as friends, writers, fellow New Yorkers—we watched as the second plane crashed into a tower. It never occurred to me to not ask if I could visit him in Prague, and I’m guessing it didn’t occur to him to say no, simply because we share a connection.

Which is not to say that time doesn’t change or lessen connections; there are people, especially Camp Taconic people, I am no longer connected to, despite thinking I would forever be connected to them. Life does sometimes get in the way of connections; other times, it is we who need to alter our connections. I’m currently in the process of disconnecting from someone I truly thought I’d spend a lifetime connected to. Yet there is an ebb and flow to connections, to accepting the people life places in our paths. I may not ascribe to a particular faith, but recognizing, as well as nurturing and protecting, connections is sacred to me. In the past year, I’ve connected with two colleagues in a way I never thought possible; they’ve become close friends, ones I rely on in a myriad of ways. I’ve connected with my sister’s children in an intensely pure, transformative manner. I’ve re-connected with my closest friends—the link between us has escalated, as have the love, respect and admiration. I’ve recently tried to create a new connection, one borne of 21st century technology but based on the most ancient form of communication: honest words.

Connecting with others is not easy—it can be daunting, confusing, complicated. Insecurities arise, words are weighed and letting go—trusting enough to truly connect—is the biggest leap of faith life has to offer. In the end, though, I think it’s worth it, because forging connections is the point. Of life, and of love.