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Hard Business
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Real Men

Pondering Porn
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Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
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Online Threesome Porn

The Year of Yes: A Memoir
by Maria Dahvana Headley

Book Review by Rob Hardy

Seven years ago, Maria Dahvana Headley was a transplant from Idaho into the heart of New York City. She was twenty, and she was going to school to learn to be a playwright. She was finding herself, as the saying goes, but she was losing her mind in the dating scene. In her academic environment, she had her pickings of neurotic and artistic intellectuals, wannabe playwrights, aspiring actors, and rich boys. She was snubbing them and making herself un mattress, alone again," on the morning of Valentines Day, she gothappy in a teensy existential crisis. "Lying on my lumpy  a phone call from "The Director", an acquaintance from a writing workshop of a year before. "I'm listening to NPR. Do you want to come over and make out?" She thought she was finally going nuts: "I was itemizing the things I'd said to the Director that might have caused him to think that National Public Radio turned me on." She realized she had to do something different, and she made a pledge: for a year, she would date everyone who asked her out, regardless of whether she was attracted or interested. In The Year of Yes: A Memoir (Hyperion) she recounts a life-changing year in a funny, self-deprecating, and intelligent account of a transformation. Memoirs are necessarily untrustworthy (a special case is the hullabaloo over James Frey), but Headley knows this: "This book has been reconstructed from memory. My memory. Subject to vagaries, hangovers, emotional meltdowns, and the occasional unrequited vendetta." She does not give names, so as not to break up marriages or otherwise bother those included in her narrative, but explains to them, "If I couldn't be entirely kind while still telling the truth, at least I've edited out some of your bad dialogue and made you wittier than you were."

She didn't exactly say yes to everyone. She would not say yes to someone obviously violent, or too drunk or drugged to walk, or married. And: "No one who introduced himself by grabbing me." Saying yes did mean she would have a date with the aspirant (although a date might not be a traditional movie, dinner, and snuggling). It didn't mean that she would spend the night with him, although there was plenty of that during the hundred and fifty men (and a couple of women) upon whom she bestowed yeses. "Yes to conversation, yes to dinner, yes maybe to a movie, yes to a bar. That's it. No other guaranteed affirmatives." But she would go out with each one who asked, at least once. "I'd stop pretending to be deaf when my taxi drivers tried to tell me I was cute. I'd stop pretending to be crazy when strange guys walked too close to me on the street. I'd turn toward them and smile. And if they wanted to go out with me, I'd say, 'Sure.'" In second grade, she had decided to read every book in the library A to Z, and she did make it to N by the end of high school, refusing to reject any. She found a lot of dreck, but she also found Fitzgerald, Joyce, Nin, and more with whom she wanted to keep long-term relationships; she thought she could have the same experience in dating, and it turns out she was right. "I was expanding my faith in humanity. I was going to say yes, not just to a different kind of man, but to a different kind of life."

"Just don't give out our number to any more wierdos," says her roomie.

There were wierdos. A French millionaire (at least he said he was a French millionaire, and Headley checked up on him and found it was entirely true) asked her out in the Barnes & Noble checkout line. He still lived with his mother, but asked Headley to marry him one hour into their Starbucks date. "We will be married in less than one year, with our first child on the way," he insisted. "But first I must introduce you to God." Headley was dismayed that she had latched onto a religious bigot, but finds out that "God" is just used as a nickname, as he unzips to make the introduction. "If this was God," she quips, "it was more like one of the lesser gods." He does protest, "I am not wanting the sex. My mother is at home, I told you. We will make love for the first time on the wedding night. I am a Catholic!" More impecunious but still as weird was the homeless guy who thought he was Jimi Hendrix. "I'm gonna let you in on a secret," he said. "I have to play a gig, but we're trying to keep the press from jumping on it." That short-term relationship ends rather sweetly, with reflections on his reincarnation to a rock star and hers into an affirmative dater. Then there was the otherwise attractive guy who forty-five minutes into their date wants her to do him just one favor. She can't comply: "What kind of a man wanted a woman to bite his penis on the first date? What kind of a man wanted a woman to bite his penis ever?" There was the mime who wooed her on the subway platform. She hates mimes (after all, she writes dialogue in plays), and would have ignored him as the other commuters did. However, in the year of yes, she accepted a mimed kiss ("It was a peck, luckily. Mimes don't do tongue. They aren't supposed to have them.") and then a mimed ceremony of marriage, breakup, and death.

Some of the weirdness is sweet. There was a subway conductor who kept his iguana with him (and a hat for the iguana). He convinced her to ride out to Coney Island on the last day of the season (it was November) and have a swim. It was a revelation: "Part of me was always preserving myself, making sure that I didn't get hurt, making sure that I didn't get lost. Not today. I let go of the last things I'd been clinging to. I was ready for love to come to me." In the icy water she even forgot to worry about pneumonia. The conductor was an inspiration of kindness and happiness, complete with a farewell cupcake with a wishing candle.

The wish came true; ironically, toward the end of the year, Headley fell in with a fellow from the same actor / playwright pool she was trying to get away from. Sure, there's a happy ending, after plenty of happy or at least anecdote-inspiring dates. Even if she had never found her true love, it's clear that the year was good for her, increasing her empathy, her self-regard, and her fund of stories and dialogue. She is a good story-teller, and her background in drama means that she has lots of references to Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Moliere. Readers will find that this was a very good year, and an example for anyone who wants to shake out of a rut.

The Year of Yes by Maria Dahvana Headley
(Hyperion; January 11, 2006; ISBN: 1401302300)
Available at: / Amazon UK


Rob Hardy
December/January 2007

© 2006 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

About the Reviewer
Rob Hardy is a psychiatrist who lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife, two terriers, five cats, and goldfish.

He reviews nonfiction for The Times of Acadiana, but has been reviewing books as a hobby for years before that.
Email: Rob Hardy

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'07 Book Reviews


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