"Her Widening Gyre," 2011, Njideka Akunyili Crosby

“Her Widening Gyre” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Hey, Rooks. August’s theme is Give and Take, particularly as it pertains to friendships, familyships, and relationships of all kinds. A few notes on the romantic kind, with no real answers.


1. I find it odd to characterize romantic relationships as “more than friends.” It seems friendship ought to be the prized jewel; connection through the haze of sex and romance and newness; “more than” boyfriends/girlfriends/partners.

2. I have a history of failure in actually living by this philosophy. This can be illustrated with my and S.’s conversation at the dining room table in the winter, when I was looking over the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s “Style.”

ME: What the fuck!
HIM: What?
ME: I always thought that in the bridge, she was saying “Take me out,” but it’s actually “Take me home,” just over and over!
ME: That’s like…so sad? But so real!
HIM: How?
ME: Like, throughout the whole song she has these hesitations about partaking in such a casual romance, but she always comes back to being like, “You’re cute, I’m cute; we’re young; I can handle it!” And then she’s just gonna plop in this extremely dark plea to be taken home? Like, turn the car around, I am not wired for this kind of relationship!?
HIM: But wouldn’t it be “take me home” as in, like, “Take me home with you”?
ME: …Ohhh.
HIM: No?
ME: No. Yeah. Yeah, that makes way more sense. Oh my god, obviously! Right, like, that’d be so weird if in the middle of this song that’s just about like, a rowdy fling, she’d be like, “Wait, what are we?” Wow. I can’t believe I—so dumb. OK. Well. Nevermind, then.

3. I cut my hair because I would rather become a new person than remain the ghost of a past one. It is the haircut which allegedly prompted Frank Sinatra to divorce Mia Farrow. It is the haircut I got when I was 13 and saw romance as a distraction from newfound interests in fashion and art. It spins counter-clockwise but accelerates the passing of time; memories of this relationship, if we can call it that, feel as though they happened to a different body.

I was photographed before and after. To my own disappointment in myself, the emotional transformation was not so visible in the “after” shots—if anything, I look more self-conscious, threatened by the bareness of the studio, already missing the comfort of femininity. Unfortunately I have struggled to find a version of femininity that is not synonymous with the kind of self-consciousness that can slowly desaturate a person, perhaps because it’s been defined by men, or by my own assumptions of what men must want. I loathe to discuss having a “type,” but all evidence suggests that mine is someone who strikes such a particular balance of handsome and boring that I assign complexity to his silence, confuse that silence for disapproval, and believe that that disapproval is indicative of my failure to meet standards I held for myself long before he entered my sphere.

4. There’s the Fiona Apple lyric: “And it’s dangerous work trying to get to you too, and I think if I didn’t have to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill myself doing it, maybe I wouldn’t think so much of you.” There’s what L. said when we discussed writing to a former partner in search of answers and apologies: “I knew what I was in for. I probably wouldn’t have sent that email if there’d been any chance of him understanding me.”

I have written and talked at length about a philosophy that the projection inherent in fandom can be applied in human interaction, thinking it was empowering to view one’s affection for another person as a reflection of oneself. I worry now that I am doomed to be a fangirl forever; that my heart can recognize only unrequited desire as love.

5. There’s the scene in The Flick where Sam tells Rose he loves her and Rose retorts that he is in love, instead, with an idea of her. “That’s not how I wanted it to seem. Be. That’s not how I wanted it to be,” Sam says, facing the movie theater screen, with his back to her.

ROSE: So turn around and look at me.
SAM: (tears starting to brim in his eyes) Do you like me back?
ROSE: Oh my god.
ROSE: Would you please just turn around?
Sam shakes his head no.
ROSE: Sam.
He shakes his head no again.
ROSE: You’re seriously not going to turn around and look at me?
He does not turn around.
ROSE: You don’t know me.

6. My eighth-grade class took a field trip to a 1920s-themed restaurant, and while we were getting rounded up in the morning, I sat in the back of the social studies classroom and stared in the dark at the boy I had a crush on. He was in front of the projector and facing me, but silhouetted against the yellow screen so that I could not discern if his eyes stared back at mine. It was lovely to pine for the answer. I’d dressed up as Daisy Buchanan, but was thrilled for him to be my green light.

7. Is it so criminal, though, to try to keep your heart protected before allowing anyone the opportunity to treat it like a whoopie cushion? To need to know that this person likes you back before you turn around and grant them permission to inflate the space inside your chest before crushing it out with some crude fart sound? Who is responsible for the first gesture? I am told each sentiment unfolds in small ways, in turn. I know now that the reckless, hair-flippy “Style” method of relationship-ing leaves little room for such care (for me, anyways).

8. This morning, D. sent me a quotation from Maggie Nelson’s Bluets:

For to wish to forget how much you loved someone – and then, to actually forget – can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart.

I thought immediately of my April diary entry in which I tried to accept that getting older means killing your idols, seeing their flaws, lowering them off their pedestals. Worried I would lose my religion if the movies and books and music that had so often saved me were now tainted, I scrawled:

when we celebrate one’s art we are not celebrating their character — we are celebrating the cosmic aptitude of this (art)ifact of natural history — a bird’s nest.

This idea was borrowed from David Wilson, founder of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, when I interviewed him junior year:

There’s no real distinction between what’s man-made and what’s natural, because humankind is pretty natural as far as I can tell. […] Essentially it goes back to a 17th-century or even earlier designation of artificialia and naturalia—what is artificial and what’s natural. It’s kind of an act of hubris or pride, I think, that things that are made by humankind are in some way out of the natural order. We’re certainly, absolutely, profoundly part of the great glittering chain of being. I mean, look at birds’ nests—are they artificilia or are they naturalia? A bird makes this gorgeous nest, and that’s considered a natural artifact—so why is that different for humans?

I saw M. last night and she asked me to walk her through the breakup. I delivered my same S.-blaming script of the past three months. I found myself believing it less.

This is not to say that no one is ever responsible for their own actions—just that I’d like to know what happens between friendship and “more than friends” that exchanges my own generally realistic lens for a kaleidoscope. This month is all about that, in the greater interest of being as genuinely loving as possible, to partners of all kinds. If you have answers, or similar questions you love exploring, send them in, as always! For visual art: We’re looking for anything resembling an optical illusion.

Thank you, love you,