Monday, April 23, 2007
I Love Lila Futuransky!; Sarah Schulman's "Girls, Visions, and Everything"
Around this time of year, the weather starts to make me a little crazy. I want summer, and I want it now. Since I can't have summer yet, I like to at least read about in, in books like Sarah Schulman's second novel, "Girl's Visions and Everything," . Originally published in 1986, it is the story of an East Village summer, in the life of Lila Futuransky, "a general dyke about town, alternately entertaining and antagonizing the people she bumped into, tripped over, walked with, and the women that she slept with." Lila, "always knew she was an outlaw, but she could never figure out which one." I first read this book when I was nineteen or twenty, and after all this time, it is still entirely possible that Lila Futuransky is my hero.
Lila is twenty-five. When I was nineteen, that seemed like such a glamorous, grown-up age to be. Now that I am thirty-something, it strikes me as almost impossibly young. But Lila is simultaneously more grounded and much freer than I was at that age. While her friends are skipping town for the summer, she has decided to stay put. She roams the East Village, making art, having adventures, thinking and talking about ideas with her friends, and then writing about it all in her sweaty little apartment, typing as fast as she can. The book feels like it was written with all of that immediacy. I can't think of anything I've read that's given me such a sense of being in the moment, in the place.
The book begins the week before Memorial Day, when Lila is on her way to an assignation with an actress, that doesn't work out quite as she'd hoped. Instead, Lila spends the evening walking around and talking with another woman, Emily. In her thirties, Emily is a little older than the rest of Lila's tight knit circle of friends. She's also carrying more baggage, of a darker variety than they seem to be, is more tentative in her ambitions, and less daring in any dreams she allows herself. She is also lovely, smart, and oddly sweet.
Lila is bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by Emily from the start.. One night, another spent walking and talking on the East Village streets, because it's too hot to be inside, and neither has any money to do much else, "she just watched the different expressions Emily's face was capable of. Sometimes she seemed like a dress-for-success executive whose bra was held together with staples. Then she became a silly girl sitting over a Tab in a coffee shop. Lila began to wonder, was she courting this woman, or were they just making friends?" Who hasn't had that moment, of wondering if you're at the beginning of something that's going to be something, or just making a nice new friend? I love how well Schulman evokes that feeling in this passage, the close watchfulness of it, the waiting, the anticipation, and the hoping but not quite yet wanting to hope because, of course, you never know for sure, until something or other happens, and then you do.
Each time I read, "Girls, Visions, and Everything," and spend its 178 pages with Lila Futuranky, I find myself wondering if I want to be her, leading that life of art and ideas and energy, or if I want to be her best friend, to know she's always available to me on the other end of the phone, to talk about my own ideas with, and borrow some of that energy when I need it, or if maybe I'd like her to be my girlfriend. I do know that one of the things I like so much about her is something that reminds me very much of myself., and would drive me crazy in a girlfriend. Lila and I share a tendency to think way too much about absolutely everything,, and this, I can tell you, doesn't make anything easier for either one of us, or for anyone we're dating.
Thinking too much can get in the way of doing things. In Lila's case, it almost keeps her from ever getting together with Emily. After another of their nights of walking the streets and talking, Emily invites Lila to spend the night. Lila's in bed, listening to Emily falling asleep, getting cranky because, well, she's in bed with Emily, listening to her falling asleep, which is not what she had in mind. Then Emily asks her if she's anxious, or maybe changing her mind, and wanting to go home. Lila the overthinker answers, " I... look, I thought you wanted to sleep with me. That's why I came home with you. Look, Emily, tell me the truth. What are you trying to pull here anyway? I mean, I don't always understand all the time what you mean by what you do." Emily answers, " ' Why do I have to initiate everything?' ... with impatience in her voice, as though it was all so obvious." And, after all, she did invite Lila to spend the night, in many circles that is considered about as obvious as a girl can get without wearing a sign around her neck.
Once Emily and Lila get going, Schulman does a wonderful job of capturing and passing on to us the specificities of what goes on between them. It is complicated, and confusing, and often wonderful. Moments like this one, after Lila and Emily have spent their first night together, "Lila watched Emily consider whether she should be her lover or not. She watched her have a thought, decide to articulate it and then do so." and this one, "It was knowing that she had sought this woman out, night after night, because she wanted Emily's hands between her legs, because she wanted Emily's fingers inside her, because Lila loved Emily's wrinkles... It was knowing she had sought her out and now Emily was in her." build upon themselves to tell us one story. A story that feels real and true, in part because it doesn't come too easily to either of these characters to allow herself to be known or loved in such a way.
But there's another story playing itself out alongside Lila and Emily's love story. It isn't any kind of love triangle, as we might expect, given that Lila tells Emily, long before they become involved, "Listen, I have lots of crushes all over the place. I just sit back and look at them and think, some of this will come to be and the rest won't, so I'll just enjoy imagining it all for now." It isn't any other woman Emily has to worry about, it's Lila herself. Or rather, the ideas and visions Lila had about her life before Emily's appearance. She'd been a solo act, swashbuckling around, making everything up as she went along. But then she met Emily, and everything changed.
As many times as I've read this book, I always forget how devastating the ending is. Every time, I'm rolling along with Lila and Emily, watching them put on shows and fall in love, and letting them remind me that, "even when life is sad, people still have a good time." And I am having a great time right along with them, until we get to the last two pages. When Lila climbs out onto the roof of her building, and realizes that continuing her relationship with Emily, who she loves, and by whom she is loved, in ways she'd never imagined possible, will require her to give up the future of limitless possibilities she'd always held onto so tightly for herself. Some people might say that moment of realization is what growing up is all about. But I don't want Lila Futuransky to grow up, not if that's what it means. I want her to have her Emily, and all of her other dreams as well. So, I'm glad I don't know what she chooses in the end, though I hate having to leave her out on her rooftop, "sobbing so hard she was swimming through her tears," not knowing if the tears are for dreams of the future she's letting go, for Emily, or simply because she now knows she lives in a world where people are forced to make those kinds of choices.