Posts Tagged ‘love’

The Compass That Keeps Me Pointed North in the Journey Towards Love

20140214-102259.jpgA few days ago, I was doing some work at a local Panera (I KNOW) when this elderly couple at the table next to me sat down. They didn’t have a sense of being an old married-type of couple — you know, how people start to walk alike and have the same rhythm and expressions, a very settled shared pace and ease. This couple had kind of a nervous, curious energy together, like they were new to each other in some way.

I’m a big observer of people — a more polite way to say I’m freaking nosy as hell! — so I caught bits of their conversation. They were on a first date! I tweeted how cute and adorable they were, of course, because I am a semi-jerk sometimes that way. But they really were super-cute: they were laughing and giggling, and had that kind of eagerness universal to enjoyable early dates. They asked one another those get-to-know-you questions; they made awkward jokes; they took delight in their shared ideas and sensibilities. (Apparently they both loved “The Love Boat” back in the day.)

But as their date went on, I realized this wasn’t like any typical first date, those kinds where you present your best face, share your life resumes (“I climbed Kilimanjaro!” “Well, I lived in Paris!”), show off on what books you read, bands you love, movies you watch. As they shed their initial shyness, they went beautifully deep, in a way that perhaps only people who have rich wells of life experience can go. They both talked about their children, their former marriages — both had spouses that had died in recent years — their childhoods growing up on farms.

But it wasn’t just sharing information, or even opinions or stories — they shared feelings and emotions. What they learned and how they grew from experiences. Regrets and disappointments they had. What brought them genuine satisfaction and happiness. What they still hoped for and dreamed about. Maybe it was their age, and you get to a point where you’ve seen so much; you have nothing to hide, and don’t have time to play games. But they were just so present with each other.

I listened to the voices and I was struck less and less by what they talked about than how they sounded: calm, clear, trusting, honest, with no sense of playacting, pretense, or protection. They just had this hopeful, serene openness with one another. Not “take it or leave it,” but more “This is who I am, for better or worse; I hope you like it.”

It was inspiring to see these two people, clearly in the autumns of their lives, still searching, hoping and reaching for the possibility of love. It made me think of a Rumi quote I stumbled across a few weeks ago:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

When I first read that, I thought, “How is such a thing possible?” I mistook barriers for character flaws, I suppose, like the things about yourself that would keep yourself from being loved if anyone found out about them.

But removing barriers isn’t erasing all these supposed imperfections to finally be perfect enough for love — an impossible task, I think. Barriers arise from the impulse to hide, to not tell the full truth about yourself, to pretend to be something we are not. I’ve been thinking a lot about love, and about how we hide parts of ourselves in order to find or hold onto it: our shames, our fears, our anger, our darkness, what we really think and feel. Love is hard sometimes, and it’s easy to give up, to hide behind a shell, or to settle for less or take it for granted. We are often vulnerable and fearful creatures, and we protect ourselves with destructive beliefs — but at the same time, we keep ourselves from experiencing genuine intimacy. Not just with romantic partners, but with friends, family, and maybe even ourselves.

But in their gorgeous, brave openness, honesty and emotional generosity, this silver-haired couple was the closest Rumi-like ideal that I’ve seen in real life. Here were two people, still endearingly shy and nervous, but brave enough to be more than brightly festooned, highly defended fortresses we tend to be with each other. It was a beautiful thing to see and be inspired by, especially so close to Valentine’s Day.

I’m sure if their love story continues, they’ll hit roadblocks and have their spats, arguments and misunderstanding — but both of them seemed to have arrived at a place of peace and self-acceptance with themselves, and now they’re at the point where they can possibly converge. I hope, wherever they are, they’re having a lovely Valentine’s Day.

And I hope — single or taken, young or old, rich or poor — you are, too! So: Happy Valentine’s Day! May the richness of the human heart lead you to love, light and liberation.

What We Learn When We Learn About Love

Every Tuesday, I meet my sister and her kids for a quick supper right at 6:15pm. She’s usually between dance and tae kwon do classes for the kiddos; I’m on my way to the gym. It’s a nice way to see my family and catch up quickly, and chat with my sister. Last week I was telling her about celebrating my sweetheart’s birthday with dinner with his parents over the weekend. My five-year-old nephew was listening in on the conversation, and he cocked his head when he heard this and said, “Wow, you must really love him!” his eyes all huge and amazed.

I laughed, of course, because it was a funny thing to say, like Oh my god, such a hard thing to do for someone, having dinner with their parents! (It’s not, really: I like my sweetheart’s parents a lot.) But it was also startling, because I realized that my nieces and nephews are watching my grown-up life in their way, observing and learning and maybe even taking notes for when they’re older. I’m of course deeply interested in my own experience of my relationship, as well as my sweetheart’s experience of it — that we’re both happy and content and growing together. But I had never really considered before what my niece and nephews are picking up from me. It’s a strange shift in perspective to consider, to look at my love life through the eyes of my favorite little monsters. (more…)

Imaginary Conversations with Isabel Archer

Longtime readers know that Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady is one of my favorite novels. Like the big English major dork that I am, I’ve re-read it many times in my life. I never fail to become fascinated by what is essentially a deep psychological study of one of the greatest characters in English-language literature. That’s a big claim to make, but James captures his heroine Isabel Archer’s transformation from a quicksilver, independent, intelligent ingenue into a “lady,” entombed in societal convention in the worst way possible — through her marriage with a venal, gold-digging gentleman and her own hubris, idealism and egotism. He does it with such genius, precision and deep insight. As you read Portrait, you truly feel as if you are deeply intimate with a character and the movements of her emotions and mind — though she retains an essential enigmatic nature that keeps me coming back to her story again and again.

I most recently picked it up while I was hiding out in my apartment, wandering through my late-summer odyssey of minor yet constant physical pain, during a totally gross, yucky heat wave — which is a really strange time to read The Portrait of a Lady. I always read Portrait in the strangest of times, like at night during the trek through the Thai countryside. I always get something new from it when I read it again — maybe that comes from reading it in the strange contexts, I don’t know.

I had always been fascinated by Isabel’s girlishness, by James’ wonderful characterization of what it means to be an American girl full of vitality, freshness and a willingness to throw off convention to chase after some vague vision of self-determination. But this time around, I became fascinated more by her toxic marriage to Gilbert Osmond, a man of genteel poverty who essentially marries Isabel for her money — unbeknownst to her. He’s highly refined, an aesthete and incorrigible snob, though he can turn on the charm and intelligence enough to convince Isabel he is a viable romantic choice. We’re privy to Osmond and his accomplice’s intentions before Isabel becomes aware of it, which I always thought was an interesting narrative decision. What did Henry James intend by this? The result is that you just can never see the appeal of Osmond — you’re always suspicious of him.

And what he did intend by Osmond? Because Osmond is just not hot. I never understood why Isabel went for him; he’s not sexy by any stretch of the imagination. Even his charm is so thin! I just could never quite picture him, you know? He was more than an idea than a real, living man, but strangely, I feel like this is often true of Henry James’ male characters. (His women are rich, vivid and fascinating, inspiring a lot of different, often conflicting emotions — but his men are sort of just pale toast for me.) Though I’ve read, studied, wrote papers on and discussed to death Portrait, the whole fulcrum of Isabel’s marriage to Osmond has always eluded me in terms of its meaning and my personal understanding of it. It’s like that girlfriend of yours who marries someone of whom you wonder, “Dang, what does she see in him? Ugh!” I often just wanted to shake Isabel and be like, “Girl, you can do better! Don’t settle for that dumbass!”


Sparks & Beauties: Liz Wrote This Beautiful Thing About Fiona Apple, Save the Dancing Indian Horses, and Deconstructing Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Hello, lords and ladies! It has been such a strange week for me, full of ups and downs and tumult and glories. But there is always so much beauty in the world, including these lovely things I’ve read, seen or otherwise absorbed over the past weekish or so. (“Weekish” = maybe more than a week, maybe a bit less, depending on my mood.) On a personal level, people have been getting and it is both exciting and nerve-wracking….I do hope everyone likes it! (Commence nail-biting.) There is a gorgeous flow of helpfulness in my life now, kind of like a circuit of generosity that I find inspiring. And I made baked kale chips and they were brilliant — favorite new snack food! But here are some other things that have made the world wondrous and lovely:

Liz’s Great Lovely Thing about Fiona Apple’s Idler Wheel

My former compadre at NOGOODFORME writes such beautiful, true things about insomnia, anxiety, nice guys and so much more. I just really feel for anyone who can’t sleep, on this primal level, having battled (and will likely continue to forever and ever fight against) persistent insomnia. Such constant vigilance, such noctural mental wanderings! Also I loved the thing she wrote about first kisses, summer and “Hot Knife.” I was in a haze of total love last summer, feeling both being melted by my sweetheart into a lovebug puddle and feeling like I had acquired that superpower on him myself, and I’d listen to “Hot Knife” and think it was pretty apt. Mutual meltability = summer love? Not to quote iconic New Wave songs, but sometimes you really do just want to melt with someone.

The Plight of the Dancing Indian Ponies

I love to read about horse breeds: hotheaded warmbloods, calm and intelligent curly horses, sensitive and proud Thoroughbreds, stubborn Arabians, steady and strong Percherons. In India they have these rare horses — Marwaris — with these ohmygod kind of flopsy weirdly adorable ears. They’re just beautiful horses all around. And they’re often trained to dance, especially for high-demand rural areas for ceremonies like weddings and such — and they wear this amazing sparkly flower-festooned tack when they do so. The sad thing is that these horses are very rare, and have faced near-extinction for various reasons. A group of dedicated advocates have brought these horses back from the brink, but they would like to see antiquated export laws in India changed so that the indigenous horse can leave the country for better, kinder homes and breeding — and also because the parts of India they’re prevalent in are short on resources to keep the breed thriving. A group of filmmakers are making a film about Marwari horses and they have an Indiegogo project going to raise money for the movie. Please give and spread the word, to at least draw attention and shed light on a beautiful animal and record its history!

I Really Loved Ruby Sparks and Am Glad I Stayed Up Late to Watch It

Everyone has already shared that great New Statesman story about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, so I won’t get into it here. But I will say that it piqued my interest in watching one of the movies it cites, Ruby Sparks, written by its female lead Zoe Kazan and starring Paul Dano, an actor I have never fancied but nevertheless have always enjoyed watching onscreen — he’s got a rare groundedness and intellect for a young male American actor. And lo and behold, the entertainment gods are watching out for me, because earlier this week, Ruby Sparks was showing on late night HBO and I decided to watch it, being sleepless and all. And I really, really enjoyed it. It’s a modest film, well-shot but by no means visually flashy — and it’s well-acted. It is essentially an update on the Pygmalion story/Galatea myth, and a riff on the dangers of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl — or just the disservice we do ourselves and to others when we indulge in romantic idealization. I thought it would be a cute little romantic comedy, but it’s actually much darker than that.

I’m not used to writing smart things about movies anymore, which is a pity, because Ruby is a very smart movie, with an affable surface concealing much darker undertones. But I will put it this way: I have never been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I am simply not that kind of cute or gamine or ingenue-ish. I’m not sure I’ve ever been romantically idealized in my life. But I have watched as many people I know fall in love with MPDG types, or tried to mold themselves into MPDGs in order to be loved. I’ve seen people waste years pining for a picture in their mind that can’t be attained — hell, I’ve wasted years of my life pining after a fever dream of a person, until finally this dreamboat was anything but. Ruby Sparks takes the point of view of the dude in the relationship, who manages to conjure up his dream girl. At first it’s great, but then he tries to control her by literally re-writing her character — and it gets darker and darker. That’s the thing — romantic idealization is, in a very passive way, its own kind of control over a situation and it curtails the full freedom to be human. And the film shows the costs of that brilliantly. It’s a lot tougher and darker and more feminist than the cutesy trailer makes it seem. I really enjoyed it, and maybe you will, too.