“Stray Italian Greyhound” and why I can’t seem to stop being a romantic despite being a pragmatist

It’s not her fault, at all, but this morning I’m blaming Vienna Teng.

I listened to “Stray Italian Greyhound” off her new album, Inland Territory, on loop all the way to work today. I also belted it out right along with her, complete with dramatic interpretation.

It’s about being hit by life with unexpected–and almost unwanted–love after you’ve already put away your heart and your hopes and “settled into the glass half empty.”

And it’s lyrics like that, and “This sudden burst of sunlight/And me with my umbrella/Cross-indexing every weatherman’s report” and the perfect description of all of this as “inconvenient fireworks” that are why I go ahead and sing at the top of my lungs, with the window down on a gorgeous spring day, driving down San Francisco streets.

(Oh, and can we just mention the strings? Sheer orchestral gorgeousness. Swells of sonic pleasure.)

I like stories that tell of this feeling, this experience. I like the story of the person who, having quietly resigned from love and made a virtue of small comforts, is caught in the unexpected gale of love and terrifying possibility (without warning/as a whirlwind/swoops on an oak/love shakes my heart, as Sappho is said to have said) and is grudgingly, bitterly, inexorably, violently happily, forced into that opening of heart and hope.

It’s a literally awful experience: equal parts terror and glory, and I love it.

At my heart, I call myself a pragmatist. But always, always, because there’s no other way to live if you really want to enjoy it, I’m optimistic about life. I may even be utilitarian about my optimism, because I do see–laud, even–its sheer bloody evolutionary value, but I won’t deny it. And despite being wonderfully happy in the completeness of my self, there’s a part of me that yearns for the stupid romantic comedy to play out in my life. I have had enough of that happen in my life to know that it can, so even though the rest of me is going on its way happy and secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if it will, that itty bitty part of me wants it. The whole full-throttle, cue-the-violins, caught-up-in-something-bigger-than-you experience.

It just struck me that part of it is that I want to be naïve again. Every time after the first time, I have had a moment of choice in falling in love. That’s how I am now. That first time? Dude, I just fell in love and didn’t know it until it was too late. And that didn’t turn out so well. So now, I know what it feels like, and I can stop and say, “you sure this is where you want to go?” and then leap off the cliff anyway, waiting to see if I’m going to fall or fly.

Because that is one of things of which I am most proud: I will take that leap, I will take that risk, because here my pragmatism and my optimism agree–not to do so is no way to live.

And that’s why I’m still a bloody romantic in most people’s books, even if not in my own. I don’t believe in happy endings (just ask my characters), but that stubborn essential pragmatic optimist in me… well, he loves “Stray Italian Greyhound,” and romantic comedies even more than the rest of me, but we both believe that while everything might not turn out right for everyone, it does for some people, and those stories are worth the telling.