Has Salon's Cary Tennis Really Lost It?
Salon's Cary Tennis is the craziest advice columnist in the world. Not an easy feat, to be sure, but we're not the first ones to notice. (In fact, it's well documented.) He has extensively chronicled his own issues, including his history of alcoholism and ongoing fight with cancer, but tends to choose almost psychopathic questions, which allow him to expound for hundreds and hundreds of words in amazing nutso-babble, like that time he told a lost twenty-something, "Your soul cries out for the unknown...What dread beast is this?" (Meaning: "Take acid.") But little compares to Tennis' latest, "I'm from India, crazy in love." It's got it all: broken English, chat rooms, phone sex, vague racism, HBO, hipster hunting. OMG.
Let's start with the letter. It may very well be an elaborate joke from a regular reader of "Since You Asked..." who knew that if they concocted the perfect rambling ode to love, sex and longing then Tennis wouldn't be able to help himself. It worked.
The letter writer, identified as Friend of Eros, is an Indian man who met a woman in a "chat forum" in 2004 and has an strange, obsessive relationship with her ever since, focused mostly online and by phone because she has refused to see him since their initial meeting. He starts the letter with a quote he attributes to Thomas Moore: "Romantic love is an illusion. Most of us discover this truth at the end of a love affair." (This will be important later.)
Then he tells the elaborate story of his tortured love. The letter is riddled with missing articles and other (possibly fabricated) instances of English as a second language. For example:
She started sending me erotic messages to which I got addicted so badly that we both started spending our nights on phones exchanging messages in an erotic form. But when the issue of meeting me in real would come up she would not budge and she would state that she's testing me and analyzing me.
I saw the obvious plot in it and resisted her attempts to just keep an illusory phone communication between us. I would drop the urge to talk to her for a few days and usually kept myself busy in my work life and family. But there was sudden awakening inside me during those days, a longing to get hold of the urge of the erotic.
Eventually the guy quits his job, starts going to therapy and takes a personality test (?). He concludes:
Cary, now why again I long for something that's not gettable. Why do I always desire the erotic in every girl I meet or date? What advice would you put forward for me and how would I come out of this impracticality which I most of the time keep to myself? Is this an awakening? I don't know yet!
Thanks a lot!
It doesn't seem possible, but Tennis out-crazies him. He begins with a strangely ethnocentric introduction:
Yes, I think this is an awakening, not just for you but for India. You are awakening to the terrifying world of the ungoverned personal, the chaotic and unmoored, the savage realm of secular individuality. We in the West watch with rapt, uncomprehending fascination as you and your countrymen invent yourselves. We are privileged to see this happening in individuals and also collectively.
It is unlike anything we have ever seen. But because we are so distant culturally, there are real limits to how much I can pretend to understand.
Tennis then pauses for an extended digression about the source of the Thomas Moore quote. Tennis writes: "Was the quote perhaps recorded by Byron in one of the journals that Moore later burned after Byron's death? That would be funny, eh?" Hilarious.
After, it's back to how weird India is, with sentences beginning, "We Americans..." and statements like, "There are so many things we take for granted in the West!" It gets more strange:
Do you watch "In Treatment" on HBO by any chance? The episodes with Sunil? I thought it showed how difficult it is even for a trained psychotherapist to understand what a person from a different culture is saying. Or did you see "The Darjeeling Limited"?
It's not unlike the Aziz Ansari joke about white people who ask if he's "psyched" about Slumdog Millionaire. "Are white people psyched all the time?" Ansari wonders. "That's us! Every movie but Slumdog Millionaire and Boyz in the Hood are us!" Tennis, though, leaves out Slumdog.
"We Americans!" Tennis writes. "We really cannot see you!" Then he links to some articles about Indian people.
"Your prose is beautiful to me in its strangeness," Tennis continues. Which leads us to wonder why no one fixed the grammatical mistakes in the letter, doubtlessly part of what made the prose so "strange." Surely advice columns do not only publish untouched reader submissions. But in this case the answer seems obvious. Tennis needed the language barrier to point out just how different "we Americans" are. He concludes:
Who will be the person who takes to the road in India, not knowing where he is going, driven to discover who he is by trial and error and the wild wind of his passions, and by discovering who he is help others discover who they are?
Who will be that person?
Who will that be?
Will it be you?
And then the camera pans back to reveal a padded room, Cary Tennis huddled in the corner, scribbling frantically on a paper towel.
I'm from India, crazy in love [Salon]
Disclosure: I have written for Salon and I love reading Cary Tennis.