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hi everyone. welcome to griefbacon. this letter is still for the time being paid-subscriber-only, in general, but I’m sending this one out to everybody because I’ve gotten a whole bunch of new, free subscribers recently and I wanted to say hi and introduce all of you to what this newsletter is all about (it’s weird essays). I have a lot to say about Meow Wolf, so much that I’ve broken this up into two pieces - the other part will go out over this weekend and be for paid subscribers only. I also wanted to share this one with everybody because as many people as possible should know about Meow Wolf. If you’d like to subscribe you can do so here; if you’d like to subscribe but can’t afford to at the moment, email me and we’ll figure something out. xo
A lot of the places I’ve loved most in the world have no windows. On Sunday after the wedding, in the afternoon dullness of hangovers and stomachaches, we piled into the rental car and drove to Meow Wolf, in Santa Fe. Maybe you’ve head of Meow Wolf; it’s hard to explain (this piece does a better job than I can). It’s a huge narrative art installation in a former bowling alley in an unprepossessing parking lot; it’s a living novel; it’s a portal to another world, or to many. It’s a whole building given over to an invented world, and to an interactive story. I am trying not to say too much because it is one of those things that’s best if you see it without knowing much about it. It takes the shape of a house, and a forest, a playground, a gallery, and a scavenger hunt. If you can go, you should go.
In the parking lot, we climbed out of the car and walked through the oppressive sunlight. It was the kind of Sunday that feels like that crust you sometimes get in your eyes while you sleep. We had been in Albuquerque for a wedding. We flew in before the weekend, the plane coasting down into the bowl between the mountains that holds this state’s dry and low-crawling cities, with their architecture like someone trying to sneak out of a room unnoticed. The ground was cracked, dry, and nearly colorless. Just before the airport, a long green gulch broke out, like a rebellious marker gash across a page, jarring and dissonant in the landscape. Green in the desert matters more, its limited value singing out of harmony.
The view on landing broke my heart and I hated it for it. From above, America justifies everything assholes have ever written about America. It’s not just that it’s vast, although there is that, but that it’s empty. It’s how unbroken the vastness is, how - viewed on a large scale like this, at a remove - it rings with potential. It looks like an untouched canvas; it looks like a place where nobody could find you, where you could start again. Hasn’t the American Dream really always been about the ability to fake your own death, to disappear, to be remade new and once again unknown, unspoiled by time and history? What landscape has ever looked so much like freedom from the long accumulation of a self, from the accountings that shrink the world smaller?
The lie is that we love grandness because it makes us bigger. Actually, we love that we can disappear within it. The balcony from the tenth floor of the hotel where everyone was staying had what seemed to be, and maybe was, a hundred-mile view, ringed at the edges with a smudge of mountains. The landscape looked like the moon. I felt the same relief here, looking at the mountains at the long edge of the horizon, the size of the sky, the flatness of the land, that I feel in an airport after I get through TSA hours before my flight. The landscape spread out flat and overwhelming made me feel stupid, dulled by myth, willing to embrace patriarchal stories of newness, of a place where we might know one another without context, where we might start again.
One of the many interior rooms in Meow Wolf - which is all interior rooms - is a treehouse. Again, I don’t want to ruin it by saying too much about it, but in a place full of interiors, it is one of the most interior places. It is, like many of the rooms, too small to stand up in fully, with a near-hidden doorway so short you have to crawl in on hands and knees. Unlike many of the other rooms, it has windows, which look out on another part of the landscape below and around it, which is also an interior room. It is maybe the most inside place I have ever been.
At first Thomas and I went through Meow Wolf separately. We almost wordlessly decided to split up. I figured we would randomly find each other again, and it would be romantic. I then proceeded to run into every other one of the friends we had come with, but not him, and finally after over an hour I texted him a photo of where I was and he came and found me and we explored together for another couple hours. I thought it would be worse together; we would discover fewer cool things, we would be distracted, we would pull each other out of the experience, we would be hindered by trying to please one another, by trying to curate our impulses for the other’s comfort. But instead it was much the opposite. This isn’t always the case. It isn’t a given that any particular experience is enhanced by the person one loves.
The night before, two of our friends got married in Albuquerque, at a venue that looked like a movie about a wedding, all white arches and sweeping ballrooms and lawns, candlelight and tablecloths and lavender. It’s been a year of weddings, which is also like a movie about a wedding. I like weddings because they’re fake. Weddings are interior rooms. They’re a vision of a relationship that has little do with a relationship. For an evening, everybody pretends, for the price of an open bar, that love is a party, a celebration, an oasis, that romance is welcoming, that togetherness is gentle, and commitment both easy and generative.
Weddings are essentially opposed to a long relationship’s dull continuance, its errands and fights and worries. Love on a sustained timeline can force us to live in reality. We can give and be given the support and the courage to look at ugly truths. Dullness and obligation can be the great lessons of long relationships. But when we become the fact and fabric of one another’s days, it is difficult to feel that partnership is the spectacular adventure and magical escape so many wedding vows promise it to be. What we really vow is to be ordinary, to be repetitive, to be known, to be overly and sometimes uncomfortably familiar. This isn’t the kind of stuff you can say in front of a bunch of assembled friends and family to make everyone cheer and cry. A wedding is the hopefulness of the first drink, the kindness of small talk, the relief of new people, all of us crisp and temporary as pressed linen shirts. A wedding is the hotel room version of love, a bright party at the end of a long week, before another workday starts.
It was almost time to leave Meow Wolf when we found the treehouse. We were already saying we had to gather up our friends, get back in the car, get to our flight back to New York in a few hours. We went up one more ladder, climbed in through one more too-small door. We curled up on the ledge at the back, our legs dangling, our heads cradled by the low ceiling, and leaned against each other. It wasn’t actually a treehouse; it was just a very interior room. I looked up and saw that the wood ceiling and tree trunk in front of my face were covered in names and hand-drawn hearts, messages over the years. I’m sure it was part of the exhibit, done by the artists, but I wanted to get a pen and put our names there next to all of them, in our own wobbly, hand-drawn heart.
I don’t know if the first year of marriage is supposed to be hard, but I did google “first of year of marriage hard?” recently. What I think we mean when we call other people “adults” or “grown ups,” even when we ourselves are demonstrably not children and the words are long since irrelevant, is really about the feeling that wasn’t all of this supposed to get easier eventually, that at some point wasn’t it supposed to feel easy or at least manageable? It doesn’t, though, and love doesn’t make it feel easier, nor does marriage (it does make it materially easier, to a wildly unfair degree, but that’s a different essay). The same problems are still there when we go home, even if we go home together.
Love is not a treehouse, most of the time, no more than partnership is an adventure. There are other things to do; there are larger concerns than our own joy, and better ones. Marriage at its best is a contract to build a life together and life is mostly grime and errands and repetition. Doing things we don’t want to do, waking up in the morning and dragging ourselves up and down stairs and in and out doors, faking our way through conversations, propelling ourselves forward, forcing ourselves into accountability, into useful guilt, toward whatever gnaws and itches enough to make us change. If we make another person foundational to our lives then we sweep them up in all of that. To at least some considerable degree they become part of the calendars and reminders, the worries and the false starts, the bad smells, the exhaustion at the end of the day.
All that pedestrian stuff is why I love Frank O’Hara’s poetry so much, his insistence on unimportances, omelettes and coffee and cigarettes and lunch breaks and phone calls elevated by mere repetition, by the fact that this was the thing out of which we made a life, the piece by piece from which anything that matters emerges. This was what we were doing when whatever was supposedly more memorable was happening; these small-fingered naggings were where our love took place.
But it doesn’t make it any less hard. In the treehouse, time slowed and something swelled in my chest like a whole wave would break and I would never get over it. Thomas and I leaned against each other and stayed still for a longer time than I’ve been still since I can remember. That it was unsustainable, unreconcilable with the fact and obligation of real life, was what made me wish I could stay, and it was that I couldn’t, that there was no chance of it, that made it so good, that gave it whatever huge and temporary power it held in those few moments.
Weddings are that treehouse, too, and hotel rooms in unfamiliar places, and this huge, unknown, unloving desert in between mountains, under a sky so large it feels on the land like a weighted blanket, and sometimes the kitchen at a really good party, in the late heart of a hot night is, too, everyone crowded in and sitting on counters, talking shit and sweating at each other. And sometimes, still, love is too, at unpredictable moments lifting out of the grind of the long days and offering a retreat from the general shittiness of the world. To stay in that retreat long-term would be unconscionable; we can’t live in the treehouse. But we can offer it to each other moment by moment, the relief of a weekend, the spark of brightness in a huge dark sky.