There is a Charles Dickens quote to his best friend John Forster which, not finding it, I can only paraphrase: “Was there a friend I never had who would have truly understood me?” Well, John Forster and Wilkie Collins understood Dickens as well as anyone did. Even his wife Catherine must have regarded him as a mystery, and I have never had the time to read the biography–there is one on my shelf–about Ellen Ternan–and know if she and Dickens had better luck. (I am less angry at Dickens regarding his first failed marriage because my own parents are divorced and perhaps I buy the argument, “Maybe they just weren’t right for each other.”) Though I cannot answer whether any of my work is as good as his–it sounds like egotism, but I hope at least some of it is–I feel a certain sympathy for his feeling that “nobody understands me.”
I know people think he is self-indulgent. How can a man with so many adoring fans possibly be lonely? I guess, however, that I can see it. I remember a pop song that I listened to about Superman as a kid expressed the universality of feeling lonely,
I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naïve
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird
I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
And it’s not easy to be me.
It may sound absurd
But don’t be naïve
Even heroes have a right to bleed
I may be disturbed
But won’t you concede
Even heroes have a right to dream
And it’s not easy to be me
(Forgive how this quotation looks. I have trouble cutting and pasting sometimes.)
It helps me with my mental illness and lack of success finding a publisher to know that my hero got lonely, too. It also helps me to know that there are authors like Kafka and Melville whose greatness is not realized until after they are dead–even if I hope to have better luck. As for the song… I used to listen to it in the nineties when I was in high school, or later when I was in college, and I found myself thinking about the tragedy of the human condition is that even when a person has plenty of things and has no hunger pains at all, they can still feel lonely. I had read a book that was quite hard on Dickens, but I wonder if the writer understood something: as loving as Catherine Hogarth might have been–and I have nothing against Dickens’ ex–maybe she wasn’t capable of understanding him for some reason. Even his harshest biographer describes her as “lacking imagination” and that makes me wonder if a truly cruel person (me) might think “dumb as a post.” For me I never believed I could really marry somebody who wasn’t smart. I don’t know… is it egotistical to believe that an author of books couldn’t be happy with a spouse who didn’t understand her reasons for writing? Could talk history and literature and philosophy? Frankly, I felt sorry for Dickens and Catherine both. Why did they need such a cruel book?
I wonder… if I ever had a lover, who would it be? I have asked men out before. They always say “No.” I remember there were two “yeses” from school before and after grad school. Oh, they were both awful. And no, neither realized when I asked that it was supposed to be a date. Imagine the guy you going out with talking the whole time only for you to go your separate ways without meaning anything to each other–and he never realizes that it was supposed to be a date. Then there was the second, “Oh, this was supposed to be a date? That does make me chuckle. I don’t date.” Then there was the guy who did mean it to be a date–but thought after thirty minutes that we should go to his apartment and have sex. I got home unharmed and threw his telephone number in the trash. It is as a Methodist friend of mine in Claremont put it, “It’s like what girls want to tell some guys who only want sex, ‘No, it’s not me. It’s you. I hate you.'” She and I felt that the only question was why we had to be polite to the jerk when evidently all he wanted was a one-night-stand. Those dates were my love life after high school (I had one boyfriend in high school, though while we were dating one other boy who did ask to go out with me).
Anyway, that is my macabre love life. I quit watching romantic comedies years ago and never could stand romance novels. Yet if a man ever came to town to see me… who would he be? Would he be smart? Would he be handsome? Would he have money or be poor like me (it is really because my income is so little that I live with my mother)? He would have to have a college degree. If he needed to find work himself, I could make a compromise: I’d find some low-level job while trying like heck to get the books I’ve already written sold. There’s a Taylor Swift song “You Belong with Me” before she sold out to Hollywood-esque “sophistication” in songs like “Wildest Dreams,” in which she sings a song that could be me as a kid–and now. I had one boy tell me, “I only date models” and another said after turning me down, in what was supposed to be beyond my earshot, “She’s neat but ugly.” The first of these two was not even as good looking as I was. On another occasion he had even told me, “The truth is, Jenny, neither one of us is ever getting a date because of our looks. We have to have something more to say or nobody’s listening.” I don’t know why after that he couldn’t accept that I wasn’t a model, but I guess that’s how guys are. Truthfully, there have been lots of guys who have turned me down in nicer ways. What cuts about that Taylor Swift song is that Taylor Swift even in that song is still pretty. Why does somebody need to be pretty to sing?
I guess if a girl is supposed to put effort into their looks, I am partly to blame for the apathy of most men. I weigh 300 pounds and wear no makeup. My t-shirts, blue jeans and tennis shoes make me about as dressed up as the average guy in Kansas. And I know it: Charles Dickens was shallow about women’s appearances. He didn’t like fat women. Yet there are so many men that way–even the one obese guy I asked out in college who told me that he didn’t date because he had been hurt by two girls back in high school who he had gone out with. I don’t know that we had much in common, but I guess I had to try.