Archives for category: love

There is always regret when one has not done not just what one has wanted to do, but has dreamed of all of their lives. “If only I had started sooner,” regret whispers. “If only I had not taken that job, moved to that city, loved that person.” Regret is a whispered siren’s song, and it can lead one toward a sadness that is disastrous to the work.

Regret has a companion emotion, and once one figures out exactly what one needs to do, this other emotion can assert itself in awful ways. This emotion is resentment. Anything—everything—that does not help us attain our vision—our purpose—can cause us to feel resentment. For instance: a job that takes our time—our necessary and limited time—even if that job is fulfilling and valuable. Even if that job pays the bills. Our family can cause feelings of resentment. This is a deep dark secret: the people we love can be the people who awaken resentment in us. Because they ask—as they are entitled—for our most precious resources: our imagination, our patience, our time; our essential necessary energy to do the work at hand. And this is terrible. No one wants to resent for their family or loved ones. And yet, we do.

Anything—everything—that takes away from the energy needed to do the creative work that gives our lives meaning cause resentment. One must learn to carve out sufficient time to be fully engaged and to spend the energy at the work required to fulfill one’s purpose. This is true in any circumstance—with or without family, with or without loved ones, and with or without other work. Once one sees what can be done, one must change one’s life to fulfill one’s purpose.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

However, resentment is not located in those other places. Neither my child, nor my job, nor anyone else in my life is the actual wellspring of resentment. It comes from me. Of course there are stupid little human annoyances—the woman who sliced into the left lane ahead of me on I-95 today, then just as abruptly, sliced back through traffic across two lanes to make a sudden right exit. The anger caused by such behaviors only lingers for so long. Resentment comes from an inward driven anger that sharpens regret and turns it back out to the world. The clearest targets are those who are nearest us.

Yes, there may be times when those close to us do ask us to stop our most purposeful work for reasons that are worthy of resentment. They may question your sense of self, and cast aspersions on your work and aspirations. Sometimes people cannot escape the deep-seated injuries and resulting resentments that their injuries caused, and they struggle, not with themselves, but with you. Just as you may struggle with resentment. Just as I have struggled. And one must escape that false judgment, and not validate it in any way. For the most part, we are the main manufacturers of our own grief. We stop ourselves. We foist anger on ourselves and take handfuls of earth and shower ourselves in dirt. We manifest an anger that eats us from within.

I am not suggesting that one should not be angry. Anger can be a source of energy, a goad to action when complacency or sadness or depression has settled too deeply on the creative mind. I let that anger into my work—allowing characters to taste it and spit it where it needs to land. So too with me, I learn, daily, the difference between anger caused by genuine external sources and that which has simply emanated from some ancient sun within me.

When I feel resentment, I check my sources first, and realize that, more likely than not, that I am not doing what I need to do. I am not tending my work and my purpose as I should. I have taken—for reasons at once honorable and misguided—someone else’s charge and anger as my own. I put it down, gently, if I can, and get back to work. The way forward—to fulfillment, to joy—is here.

Country Living posted a video of Jeff Bridges’s romance with his wife Susan. He first saw her while she worked as a waitress when he was on the shoot for Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. “I knew I was madly in love with my wife the minute I saw her,” he claims. They married, and remain married after forty-some years. How did he know? How does anyone know at first sight?

What the hell. I say, “I love you” easily. It gets me into trouble.

Call it a predisposition—an attitude toward the world. I can walk into a museum and be delighted by things made four thousand years ago, four hundred years ago, and four hours ago. There isn’t one kind of music that is my “favorite”—so long as it avoids cliches, I like it. The same holds true for art. For movies. For most everything. So long as that thing provides some spark of surprise—the world is larger than you thought, old man!—I am, once again, in love with the world.

Cliches interrupt that feeling because there is no surprise. It is the pure unadulterated expression of the absolutely familiar. We’ve seen this show before. I thought about this when revisiting Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” last week in school, and his rail against schools for studying “monuments of [old men’s] magnificence.” How many times have I heard praise for souls that would (or should) “clap [their] hands and sing”? A hundred? A thousand times? More? Surely so. And yet, Yeats’s poem doesn’t feel like a cliche at all, even after all these years. I am surprised again. And in love.

But this is not about poetry or art. This is about falling in love, and saying “I love you”—and for doing it fast—at first sight, before the number of days and months proscribed by articles in Men’s Health or Psychology Today have passed.

Maybe men are more likely to go all in at first sight. Think of Romeo’s quickly fickle heart as he falls from Rosaline to Juliet. But Juliet, young and inexperienced as she is, follows quickly enough. And Susan Geston may have said, “No” to Bridges’s first request for a date, but she traveled home with him after filming in North Dakota wrapped up. I don’t know.

And a quick nerd note here. There is something I protect against: the reifying power of the male gaze. I suspect my gaze—and that of other men and women. It’s a way we have been, what? taught to see the world. This idea took shape when I studied film theory and encountered the work of Laura Mulvey. It’s worth serious consideration.

I do know that finding or creating a bond, and accepting that bond as something deeper than a mutual appreciation for art or wine or politics (I’ve been in those relationships, and what they lack in depth, they can more than make up for in breadth; there is much to appreciate in the world with a sympathetic soul) can help weather the inevitable differences that will occur. Most of my enduring friendships or relationships began nearly from the moment we met. Love provides the substrate for all that follows. And so much does follow.

But, how does one know? How does one ignite a deep and abiding passion based on a look, or a conversation? Experience, and more, has taught me that looks can be deceiving, but words, especially spoken words with all their attendant gestures, rise and fall of voice, and the play of expressions can unmask a heart—mine, hers.

What unmasks me, makes me open to the possibility again, is the blend of surprise and recognition. When someone adds some new aspect to the world, breaks some old pattern (like him, like her, but—somehow—not the same), and also reprises some aspect of the world that I value above all others, then I am laid bare, and I fall. I am less on guard against another person, than I am to my own repeated patterns—Am I doing that again? I am doing that again. Oy.

If I was a cynic, I would wait, and say, why love, when you know what will follow? Why not let the uglier side of each person—either her or me—assert itself, and avoid the disappointment? Go ahead and replace “cynic” with “practical.” And replace “ugly” with whatever euphemism for “real” that suits you. Either way, I am neither cynical nor practical. I am open to surprise.

It’s a common enough occurrence, or at least I hope it is for you. Someone tells you, “I love you.” This seems like a simple enough thing. But I (and I am guessing this is true for some of you as well) did not grow up in a house in which that phrase was bandied about loosely. I do not recall my parents telling each other, “I love you.” Perhaps they did, but they did not in front of us kids.

My father only once told me that he loved my mother, and that was when he chastised me for arguing with her, “She’s my wife, and I love her. She’s always going to be right.” How’s that for a single explicit lesson on love and marriage?

Everything else I figured out on my own—with generous glimpses into the lives of families of my friends and the families of the women I dated over the years. Or movies. We have to learn somewhere.

So, when someone—that someone—tells me “I love you,” I know that there is an appropriate response, something distinctly other than, “That’s nice.” And here, I am distinctly not writing about the first time someone tells me that—I’m writing about months or years of love. Besides, if “That’s nice” is your response, it’s time to move on. You are doing that someone no favors.

First, and this is easy, reply with: “I love you,” or “I love you too.” If possible, touch that person’s hand or arm when you make this response. A simple physical gesture can help punctuate your words.

Maybe this seems too easy. “I want to say more,” you think. How about responding, “Every time you say that, I feel happy”? Imagine telling someone that after ten months or ten years, or, for that matter, ten hundred years. “Every time?” Every time.

Or, you could answer, “I remember the first time you told me that. It thrilled me. It still does.” Perhaps share the particulars of that first time. You remember, don’t you?

If words are not your thing, just stop, and stop them too. No matter where you are, or what you are doing. Take their hand, touch their cheek, kiss them—lightly or deeply as you wish. And then ask them, “Tell me again.”

I have a confession. I have a terrible time receiving love. I’m sure that this is true of almost everyone, so, I’m reluctant to make any big claim about it.

And yet, that too is a strategy I use to avoid the possibility that you, unknown reader, will not love what I have written. “Oh, god, not another carping complaint. It’s all about him, again. Bastard. Why doesn’t he write about me?”

How quickly I hear disparaging criticism. How even more quickly do I anticipate it. There is virtually no critique that I have not already baked into my work.

“How,” you might imagine, “do you manage to write at all?”

Dear reader, I imagine the same thing.

My creative process is a headlong rush between the giddiness of discovery, and the wrenching feeling of anticipated disdain. When I can hold it in balance, the disdain can provide a critical foil that hones the writing; when it runs wild, my work shrinks to a barely whispered voice. Less. Years have passed.

Harder yet, is when this dynamic creeps into my other parts of my life. Wait, it does not creep. It storms in—jack-booted, kicking down doors, taking the me hostage.

You would think, after 58 years, after a modicum of personal and professional successes, that this would not trouble me. I can be an interminable optimist. The bright red balloon of my heart can soar into possibilities. There is a court jester’s sensibility that makes for easy humor, tinged with sarcasm, but also with an abiding love for the queen (you!) that seeks only to please.

However, I harbor a vision of disconnection and interpersonal doubt that would make Henry David Thoreau or Holden Caulfield seem sunny by comparison. Call it cynicism, or realism (GAH!). When I am at my best, I recognize this darker vision for what it is—a diversion from the bright path that waits. Just. Over. There. And when you are at your best, my heart gladly joins in the song you sing. But when the two of us (or more, and more) sink into dissension and doubt, then I am challenged to rise to my festive best. Then the Hobbesian vision kicks in, and the only reason we find any accord is to put off the never ending war of all against all.

I write, and love, to assert a vision of life that encompasses all the bright possibilities. And that acknowledges the deeper disconnections—not simply disagreements or differences—that drive us apart. I know that there are such divisions, but I believe in the power of writing and love to bind up the old wounds, to forge a new path, and to discover new hope.

Sometimes, all it takes is writing. And that is what I have forgotten too easily over the years. The writing will carry me back to the world of connection, possibility, and yes, love. And so I write, the cloud lifts. The lesson is learned.

Falling in love with a nomad heart, means being prepared for the moment she says, “My soul grows one hundred feet when I go…I feel alive when I go.” When she says that—and I know it is true, have known it from the first time she showed me her photographs of ancient cities, lost on plains in countries with histories that stretch back thousands of years, countries torn by wars and still carrying their past, when she showed me and her eyes lit up under the night sky—one part of me understands. Another part, feels jealous—but jealous of what? Of the world? How can that be, when the world calls to me just as strongly?

Of course, I have not traveled where she has. My nomad heart travels to places that give me pause, and I have known, since we began falling in love with each other, that she would travel to such places. Once in her life, years before we met, she was a soldier, and now, she works in countries where our country is still at war, helping fund projects that have a chance at changing lives. How can I not love that devotion?

The world cries out for those who see what is needed and then who attempt to do what is needed. My nomad has seen a world that cries out with need—need for help, need for aid, and need, most dire need, for simple recognition. Instead, what is offered, so often, is misperception, some well meaning observation, or self-preserving admonishment. And yet there are those who see more, who find a connection. People whose hearts carry that nomad spirit.

I have traveled less, and this surprises those who know me, because they expect a history to match my vision. I have seen the world beyond the boundaries of my limited travels through other people’s eyes. I have borrowed their senses as they traveled. I feel the limitations of their visions, not because they are wrong, or even short-sighted, but because I know how I see and feel. I know my limitations, but also my strengths. I can see without thinking how someone or something is like me.

My own nomad heart has looked more within, and while I know this will not replace travel, what is the point of travel if one only carries a mirror, or travels to find the origins of me, or uncover the failed roads that lead to this pinnacle of man? These days I see “Not all who wander are lost” bumper stickers and spare tire covers on the backs of SUVs. Why not get lost? Why not find a path that leads to discovery not of oneself (Now I have had my vision!), but to some other self, someone whose story demands to be told, neither because it is great, nor because it is tragic, but simply because it is. Show me something, someone, I do not know—not to uncover me, but to reveal some place, some you who waits to be known.

And so I am prepared, poorly, for the day when I take my nomad heart to the TSA line, and turn away to head back to my world, while she steps into line and toward a place where she will travel under the eyes of guards, and where she will see a world I can, for the moment, only dream about. “My soul grows,” she says, and when she says this, my heart grows. The world calls.

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