This month’s theme is Infinity, about what cannot be articulated; the infinite feelings, colors, sounds, experiences that we do not have words for. We’re publishing a few entries from Tavi’s diary that show how, for her, “it’s gotten shockingly effortless to live in Infinity, and trust that I’ll retain what I need to later, and if not, accept the price of a life fully lived.” This is the sixth and final part in the series; read the first installment here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth here.
Petra took me to get my aura photographed sometime that fall. It was violet-y and indigo, which made me think of the groupie in Almost Famous yelling, “It’s purple! Your aura is purple!” to the young Cameron Crowe character when he has to take a call from his worried suburban mother while backstage at a rock club on an assignment for Rolling Stone. (Maybe the only character in a sort-of teen movie whose experience accounted for a kind of secret life that I’d had, too, though writing that out I’m also like, Hannah Montana, duh.) The woman at the shop told me I was “removed, observant, in [my] own castle.” She said, “There is something between you and the rest of the world,” and gestured as though to indicate a screen in front of her face.
The colors melded into “New Romantics,” my favorite track on the then-new 1989, the track that sounds more like New York than “Welcome to New York” does. The first few seconds pulsate like the kind of heartache that’s pleased with itself just for existing. Creepy little muted girl-robot “ahs” grow closer and closer, a brainwashing hymn with a Disney logo, “When You Wish Upon a Star”–type glow, but the glee it proceeds to celebrate is giddy with contradictions, like when Jenny said she couldn’t wait for me to move to New York and see this and do that and “argue with a boy on a street corner in the rain.” In the intro alone, I saw a girl moving to the front of a crowd with colored light shifting on her face. The city reflected in puddles on the sidewalk as talking above transcends nervous banter to honest conversation. The sky going from night to dawn over the roof of Dennis’s apartment—a lighting sequence I only ever witnessed once, during tech rehearsals, but which frequently made members of the audience gasp.
The lyrics make up a manifesto for getting your heart broken and/or breaking other people’s hearts, and forgetting to care a day or so later. Runny mascara is a badge of honor, smeared lipstick is a battle scar, and every dramatic episode is underscored with satisfaction. “New Romantics” feels like a more reckless version of “22,” from Red: “It’s miserable and magical.” In this song, she declares that “life is just a classroom,” and I am reminded of the rehearsal onstage when my view of the lights above the audience was warped by tears, because the night before, I saw for the first time that highest highs and lowest lows did not end in high school, but carried over to New York, multiplied in number and in scope, and I was both frightened and thrilled. I can’t deny that it resonated with me when Alia said, “At the same time, I couldn’t be too mad at him. I’m an actor. I live for this stuff.” Or when we swam drunk at the pool party where I’d just run into Man—awful—and she cheerleaded its comic value that I would one day see: “These things become your stories!” Or when Lesley and I spent the night painting and talking as her dog kept busy and the sun went down and she told me about the older guy who stood her up at Coney Island when she was my age. “My story is better than his, and always will be. He gave me a gift.” But the other thing I wrote down from our conversation that night was, “Connection is always more interesting than avoiding connection.” Maybe I just chose the wrong person to try that with. When I saw Toni Morrison speak at the New Yorker Festival, she defined what I had been looking for: “The greatest human action or endeavor we can do is get past ourselves to touch someone else in a real way.” Sometimes, if enough secret self-loathing is at work, this gets confused with Didion on Noel Parmentel, her own just-moved-to-New York asshole-boyfriend: “We are fatally drawn towards anyone who seems to offer a way out of ourselves.”
When Taylor performed this song at the 1989 tour, a park bench appeared onstage for her to lie across, as though she were fainting, singing:
Please take my hand and
Please take me dancing and
Please leave me stranded
It’s so romantic.
A streak of tragedy has defined her work’s concept of romance from the beginning. On her second album, “The Way I Love You” yearns for a past relationship comprised of passionate breakups and reunions. Red’s “Sad Beautiful Tragic” salutes an affair that couldn’t work with matter-of-fact sentimentality, and a little glamorization of the fall. She spoke in our interview of missing a relationship for its “addictive feeling of heartbreak”—not of love, or affection, or any of the other more positive feelings which constitute a partnership.
In English class we learned that a tragedy only qualifies as such if the victim of the tragedy is partially at fault, and so I wonder how much I should blame myself for playing it cool, for not asking that wimpy “what are we” sooner, for perhaps choosing to live in a state of longing. It has occurred to me lately that everyone I admire for expressing themselves honestly in art might only be able to do so at the expense of interpersonal connection. Songs or essays I’ve admired for their candor I now realize were written years after the real-life event, and without any communication with the subject themselves. But what if that really is the only way you know how to express yourself? What if it’s the only way in which your subject could possibly receive the message? What if the negative space between me and him is where I thrive? I’m reminded of climbing the widow’s walk at Taylor’s house overlooking the ocean when she told me even a pop song is just for one person, “like a message in a bottle.” At dinner with Stevie, she lamented a tumultuous love affair, but shrugged it off before getting too bogged down: “Welp, got some good songs out of it.” Cat Power sings, “The moon is not only beautiful / it’s so far away,” but is the second one supposed to enhance the first, or complicate it? If I’d run into Man at the pool party and asked if he was indeed the moonface from that night with Jeff, would he have remembered? Confirmed? Given me this much? I think I feel more awake in the space of not knowing, writing about it. Maggie Nelson writes in Bluets that for Joseph Cornell, “desire was a sharpness, a tear in the static of everyday life—in his diaries he calls it ‘the spark,’ ‘the lift,’ or ‘the zest.’ It delivers not an ache, but a sudden state of grace.” I have no answers for how silly it is to want to experience pain or hang out with shitty people, nor to expect anyone to want something healthy just because they want to want something healthy. Like when Grace and I were little, she was like, “You’re so lucky that you like milk. I wish I liked milk, because I know it’s good for you, but I don’t.” I was like, “That’s so stupid. You’re talking about something fully in your control. If you want to like milk, why can’t you just like milk?” I get it now!
Had a friend described to me a relationship like mine with Man, I would wonder why she didn’t feel she deserved better. But because I think of myself as having a basic sense of self-respect, I dismissed any concern over why I was OK with it all: surely I would never get myself into a relationship like that; look at my feminist credentials! As it turns out, frequently being told that you are a prodigy does not translate to feelings of desirability or attractiveness; if anything, it detracts from them.
I thought I was just really lucky to be with him, this ingenue, this silent film star. Together we created a Kuleshov Effect, that trick of filmmaking in which the same shot of an actor is re-used between shots of whatever they’re looking at. Their expression remains the same, so the audience is free to project their own feelings about the looked at, and call it the character’s reaction. Depending on how I felt about myself on a certain day, in a certain outfit, or having said certain things, his unchanging face confirmed my greatest desires, or fears. The less he said, the more judgments he must’ve been passing; the more for me to prove wrong; the more shit he must’ve known about what makes someone cool/pretty/sexy, which I had yet to learn; the more substance he must’ve had; the more of a secret genius he was inside, if only I wasn’t such a failure at bringing it out. Or maybe he just didn’t have much to say. Maybe there wasn’t much to say. Eventually he said he felt like his job was just to watch me enjoy my new life. That he was shocked that I cared in the end as much as I did. That I was fronting, too. That he didn’t want to impose. “I thought, this person is smarter than me, more mature than me, and probably won’t want me around too much.”
I’m not playing her as confident because I’m confident. I’m playing her as confident because I’m anxious. If I were confident, I would be able to play her anxiety, to look like a mess. But I am a mess.
It is a tragedy because I should’ve known better. I don’t regret it because it was right, in the moment, which is where I was trying to live. “You worked together for a time,” his college friend offered up to me at a recent party, perhaps to validate what we’d had among all her other shit-talking. It stopped me in my tracks, though. How sad. That things work until they don’t; that all the stars aligned until it was time again for the earth to shift; that perfection cannot be sustained. But our conversation didn’t start with that.
HER: Have you talked to Man’s Friend lately?
ME: Not really.
HER: It’s hard with him in L.A.
ME: Yeah. I also just…I think I had to do some trial and error when I first moved here, in terms of figuring out who my friends are, and he totally means well, but I just don’t really think we connect.
HER: I understand.
ME: And because it’s not like I don’t know anyone else here, or we’re really old friends, I just figured there’s no reason to stay entwined and have to manage it all; I could just kind of stop dealing with it.
HER: Well I know you dated Man. That must’ve been hard.
ME: Oh. Kind of. Yeah, actually. Thank you for saying that.
HER: Not at all. It was strange. Like I had just met you, and I found out you were seeing each other, and I just remember thinking—I thought about it a lot, actually.
HER: Because Man is not…I remember meeting him at freshman orientation, and from day one, there’s been this…
She gestured as though to indicate a screen in front of her face.
ME: Really. Wow. Because a lot of people had sort of warned me, but none of them seemed to know him that well, and then I wondered if I’m just crazy…
HER: You’re not crazy. This has been, like, a thing. We all…
ME: Really? Then who’s like…his people? I feel like I was always meeting acquaintances or professional allies. I didn’t understand who he was keeping as friends.
HER: No. He’s someone who can have only fans.
And so I was perfect.