In response to @drewchial’s post Love in Lowercase … Some thoughts of my own on this trickiest of emotions. The one we could strangle sometimes, for its being so damn awkward to depict with any sincerity in writing, let alone made clear in real life.
There are too many ways to Tell people about love. Too easy to compartmentalize it; to try and quantify it in cash spent and trips made, texts signed off with the largest X possible. Let’s face it, card companies have made a booming business out of love for years, to say nothing of those that manufacture the stuffed bears, hemorrhaging hearts grown too full with an emotional society.
But how much of this outpouring is actually based upon an instantaneous, irresistible emotion?
What often comes across to me is either a last-minute thought, or a premeditated agenda. We make lists, tick off calendar squares, fuss heatedly over cakes that will look de rigueur at a child’s party when they’d be just as happy with icecream and jelly. The realization of a Special Event, pinged into the phone on a reminder; the anniversary hastily shopped around for en route home, for fear of a clip upside the head for failing in partner-duties; the wedding plotted out to its final tied knot, sewn hem and borrowed blue garter, until the actual event reads more like a shopping list than a meeting of souls.
We base our expectations of love upon those we orbit, on a handful of documented moments, when the presence of Self in any type of relationship ought to speak openly. We up the ante against ourselves so as not to fall behind so-and-so’s petal-strewn room and candlelit dinner, or receive a wire-smile backhanded compliment from Her over the Road, the one using careful modules of success to make a miniature Mensa of her progeny. It’s about buying the most expensive ingredients known to Mankind and perhaps several Gods too, for the preparation of a meal that may just win over the mother-in-law.
We allow external pressures to tell us that it’s good for the soul, as though a relationship is the beneficiary of public holidays and compliments; when what love ought to be about – as I perceive it – is give and take. Individuality is what brings us together – those tiny inflections in a conversation that make us realize a wavelength has formed; the opening of a child’s eyes for the first time, while lying in the arms of one who will cherish it through growth and age. When the milky eyes gazing back from the pillow, recognize and know your face with the bond of blood and ancestry, even as the shroud of a dying memory falls.
To love without capacity and fear, I think, is the most striking observation a soul can make. There’s an instinctive need for it; we’re drawn to others through body language and speech, subtext and drama, tragedy and remembrance.
No one can say for sure what will work and what won’t. We can give up everything we are, all that we own or indeed, nothing at all, and the song remains the same. Nothing changes, the world moves on. Such is the reality of life.
I’m becoming more aware of the qualities of love as filtered through fictional narrative. Used carefully, these can evoke such pathos in the audience as to make them realize again what can be endured, agonized over and adored … without having to resort to a discardable stuffed toy. The fictional world provides an alternative kaleidoscope for those who fear Love has become nothing but a set of interconnecting lines to make up a checklist.
Love is …
Knowing and accepting the light and dark inside us all. We can’t be singing to the sky all the time, just as a permanent black funk would be a sign of things off-kilter. Love takes the risk of stepping within the range of a soul’s double-edged blade, which no one has the right to blunt for their own personal protection or preference of peace. If you can withstand the outward cuts, you can help heal the inward nicks.
Being apart and returning refreshed; alone, but not lonely. When being together in silence is a gentle acknowledgement of a relationship’s strength, as well as individuality. Knowing that there’ll always be things to talk about, debate and discuss – if the wavelength is true, the conversation need never die out from fear of being misconstrued. A pause in play is essential for all involved, to recollect and recuperate. It’s not End Game.
“Does it get easier?”
(Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola)
Finding reasons to send little reminders – not of your own existence, but theirs. Your perception of a person or people, done up in a design/style you think they’d adore, or a line of poetry to be read over and again. “Saw this and thought of you …”, having listened to their needs, wants, desires and fears. This might be a materialistic gesture, but it’s not one sent out with a consumerism badge on a given day. It’s the memento you seek for hours at a bazaar, while reeling from the heat. It’s how my paternal grandmother – a real technophobe, who allows my grandfather to handle that side of their shared business – dared to venture online to buy the latter a refit of the motorbike he’d used when travelling cross-country in his now-distant youth. The look on his face was priceless, believe me. She did it, so she told me, because he was feeling down about his age, about losing strength, and a sense of himself. If there’s one thing my grandmother’s good at, it’s reminding people of who they are and what they mean to her.
These small moments make up the larger aspects of life. Society is based upon random acts of kindness. A long-lost or half-forgotten photo slipped between the pages of a book; a DVD bought on the sly and put into a loved one’s handbag to be found later, on the train home; a nest of words, concealed in an otherwise plain-use email or text. All can send out those warm tendrils of thought, telling someone that they live in your mind whilst out in the world.
“Bretodeau,” – Amelie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Knowing the exact point at which to stick in the knife. We always hurt the ones we love the most, since we understand them and what lives inside, which they cherish and fear. This, to me, is the one of the cruelest aspects of love; it’s unavoidable, since pain often works concurrently with love to become a teacher. We truly appreciate how much damage a careless word causes, how a deliberate jibe can chill the soul and resonate for years after in neurosis, when we feel their pain ourselves. Not that anyone should have to, but it makes us pause and reflect in the moment, before driving the blade in. Empathy is gained through experience.
“‘Your skin’s looking bad. It’s probably the dog.’
I take a small step towards her. She thinks about flinching.
‘I don’t care about my fucking skin,’ she says.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘After we broke up, I realized that our relationship will not matter when I am forty-three.’
Jordana makes a throaty noise.
‘You’re a fucking cunt, Oliver.’
She throws the bag of dog shit at me. It is a girly throw but she still manages to hit me on the neck. I do not flinch… It’s amazing because, by all accounts, she was the one who cheated on me and yet look how easy it is to make her rub her eyes with her free hand until her eyelids swell like overcooked conchiglie.
She looks at me for a moment and I think that she is going to set me alight or beat me up, but then she starts running away… I jog after her across the grass.
‘Go away!’ she yells… And I’m smiling because I lifted the scab off and it turns out that Jordana and I did have an emotional connection.” – pg 273, “Submarine,” Joe Dunthorne.
Being aware that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but heart-distance can kill it. When the emotional gulf becomes wider than the concrete one, it’s time to wonder at the dropped missives, unanswered calls, meetings not upheld. We can leave bread trails of photos and holidays, moments in time when we thought Forever belonged to us, so as to follow back toward the feelings that were relevant at the time. Now is an entirely different matter. Feelings are abstract, after all.
Living each moment as though it’s your last together, may come across as too extreme a reaction – but what I believe it amounts to, is the simple absorption of all that the other can willingly give. Take these thoughts and memories, anecdotes and opinions that have you creased up laughing; take them and run, while they’re there for free, before chance or circumstance get in the way.
“The Remains of the Day,” Merchant Ivory / adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Knowing that there will be things unchangeable. Frustration and anger can work in the favour of those who would use them for momentum to make things happen; but if left untended and unfocused, this can be the equivalent of the body’s reaction to stress-induced adrenalin. Deep wells of silence can appear, with no answering splash for the stones thrown in through the chill air. The strangest reactions – mortal and otherwise – are often induced by love, and its loss.
“‘So they all drowned.’
‘And Jennet watched. She was at the house, watching from an upper window, waiting for them to return.’
I caught my breath, horrified.
‘The bodies were recovered but they left the pony trap, it was held too fast by the mud. From that day Jennet Humfrye began to go mad… with grief and mad with anger and a desire for revenge. She blamed her sister who had let them go out that day, though it was no one’s fault, the mist comes without warning… Whether because of her loss and her madness or what, she also contracted a disease which caused her to begin to waste away. The flesh shrank from her bones, the colour was drained from her, she looked like a walking skeleton – a living spectre… And as soon as ever she died the hauntings began.” – pg 149, “The Woman in Black,” Susan Hill.
Recognizing that we all too often drop into each others’ lives mid-story. There will be whole chapters missing, a simple truth of life that becomes more relevant the older we get. There might also be pages torn out, information never to be recovered; important events (which resonate boldly through the actions / reactions of a loved one) only faintly sketched. But this narrative and that, is down to fate and someone else’s business. It’s a sign of trust when past meets present, with memories shared and explanations given – but it’s left to our own suspension of disbelief that we accept some things and move on. As humans, we are made up of experience and memories. If reading them risks dissembling the future, skip a chapter and move on; or else accept that what must be, will be.
LADY AMALTHEA: (to Lír) Don’t let him change me. The Red Bull has no care for human beings. We may walk out past him and get away.
SCHMENDRICK: If we do that, all the unicorns in the world will remain prisoner forever except one, and she will grow old and die.
LADY AMALTHEA: (to Lír) Everything dies. I want to die when you die. I’m no unicorn, no magical creature! I’m human, and I love you. Don’t let him! Lír, I will not love you when I am a unicorn.
PRINCE LIR: Amalthea, don’t.
SCHMENDRICK: Then let the quest end here. I don’t think I could change her back even if you wished it. Marry the prince and live happily ever after.
LADY AMALTHEA: Yes. That is my wish.
PRINCE LIR: No. Lady, I am a hero, and heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned. Unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story. (They walk ahead.)
MOLLY GRUE (to Schmendrick): But what if there isn’t a happy ending at all?
SCHMENDRICK: There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.
MOLLY GRUE: Schmendrick, let her stay the way she is. Let her be.
SCHMENDRICK: That’s not in the story. Lír knows that, and so does she.
MOLLY GRUE: You don’t care! You don’t care what happens to her, or to the others, just so you become a real magician at last. You don’t care!
SCHMENDRICK: I wish I didn’t! I wish to God I didn’t care about anything but my magic! But I do! I do.
– Transcript, “The Last Unicorn” (dir. Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr; based upon the novelization by Peter S Beagle.)
Accepting the many variations of love. What may burn as the green-gold haze of spring for one, is the calm dark waters of a lake for another. Love can be framed in a time and place, an intimacy and words meant for no other; some memories are only understood and appreciated through shared experience. Love would be an exhaustive and one-dimensional emotion indeed, if it was experienced in the same capacity for and by all. It certainly isn’t linear. It doesn’t wait around for someone to decide if they want to keep a baby or not; if they’re over a recent break-up. The best that can be done is to recognize the different aspects, avoid comparisons and remember that no one love is the same.
“Had Jenny been hypnotized by Will Avery’s dream?… Was it love that caused her to reveal her family’s most treasured possessions, or was it only spring fever, all that filmy green light so thick with pollen, those peepers in the muddy shallows of the lake with their dreamy chorus, calling as if the world were beginning and ending at the very same time.” – pg 21
“Matt grinned and hugged Jenny before he could stop himself. Then he took hold of his own stupidity and backed away.
‘You look exactly the same,’ he told her.
‘No one looks the same after all this time, Matt.’
Still, Jenny was flattered. Could it be she never noticed the way he looked at her, that he had been following her, not his brother?… Love wasn’t like that, was it? Just sitting there in a back drawer for all these years, like a shirt you’d never bothered to try on, but which was still there, neat and pressed and ready to wear at a moment’s notice.” – pg 157, “The Probable Future,” Alice Hoffman.
Remembering the darkness attached to love, for all its obvious light. Great deeds are done in its name, as well as some of the most appalling atrocities, evidenced in history and legend. The horror genre is stuffed full of stories which began life with a simple act of love – it’s the consequences that are the pivot upon which narrative spins. Love has the ability to warp our reasoning and reactions. Logic becomes a mundane aspect of those cold souls who are not prepared to do whatever it takes … regardless of effect on others. It can inspire the greatest sacrifices, induce the sort of nightmares you wished would stay under the bed. Love can whisper sweet nothings in the ear, not all of them pleasant. It brings out the very best, the very worst in us; at times, hate and love can seem separated by the smallest margin. When reasoning and logic breaks down, love is at its truest, most unpredictable and consequently, its most dangerous form.
Knowing that the word can lose its shine through overuse. Pages turned again and again for reaffirmation, lose their shine; the ink of precious memories fades and blurs under the thumb and a desperate eye. If every day starts and ends with the word, where does it fit in times when it’s most needed? How is it made to resonate more – through Caps Lock, through inserted heart-emoticons, through a rose-bouquet? To speak it aloud often is to cement it in the material world with all its tawdry trappings. I’d rather let love float, sink and do as it will, like magic. It finds itself in the right moments, for whatever conclusion. Subtext makes for a more interesting narrative, and a Show of truths edged around, revealing more about characters than they themselves realized.
“Wall-E”, Andrew Stanton
Knowing that there’ll always be a time and place for the so-called schmaltzy scenes; that intimacy reflects the individual. But Reality waits around every corner; just as love can’t hinge itself on any one happiness or loss, it can’t remain static. We mature and grow as a natural progression of Self, and time doesn’t pull any punches. Trying to accept these things can be what strengthens or ends a relationship. Friends grow apart, lovers fall out of lust, children learn the hard rules of distance when their best friends are sent to another school. It’s hard enough to accept in ourselves, let alone seeing change in those we care for. But there must be flux and flow, differences of opinion. Static love is a non-progressive art. The trick is learning to grow around, and not through one another; that past the wedding vows lies a marriage, and past the birth lies a new human, their life, all the dreams and horrors this encompasses. The best we can do, is to be there for when the intimacy, the advice and shoulder to cry on is needed – and equally, gauge when it’s best to pull back, to allow for the personal growth of another as well as our own.
She put one hand to the back of my head and kissed my lips. ‘I have to go,’ she said.
‘What? But – you mean to Canada?’
‘Prentice, I promised. I have to… but it doesn’t have to be forever.’
‘Well, how long?’ I wailed.
She shrugged, stroked my shoulders with her hands. ‘You get this degree, okay? If you still want me then, well…’
‘Promise?’ I said, in what was meant to be a terminally sarcastic manner, but came out pathetically.
She smiled. ‘I promise.’ – pg 493, “The Crow Road,” Iain Banks
Knowing that the word itself can be made redundant, when it lives in the simplest touch, in a glance. Before we speak the words that are our medium, learn the unbelievably confusing spectrum of their meanings, we instinctively know how to reach out. Eyes can give away far more than we bargained for. Feet, the furthest from our conscious minds, can let slip where our true intentions lie. We subconsciously know more about the person opposite us than we dare to articulate, out of good manners and/or social mores. When set against context, the lightest touch says far more than the strongest passion, the most direct words.