Hopeful Romantic

I am a hopeless romantic.

There.  I said it.

I believe in love.

I believe in love so completely, so deeply that it almost makes me naïve.

A couple of online friends recently announced their engagement, and as the date of their wedding draws close, they have shared sweet remembrances of the early days of their courtship.  The hesitant inquiries.  The “I can’t believe someone as amazing as she is could possibly be in to me” disbelief.  The heart-wrenching “I know she likes me, why won’t she just say it?” tears.  And then the warmth, joy, and tenderness as they find their rest in each other.

I can’t stop smiling.  Or crying.

Another couple with a certain amount of social media acclaim prepare for their upcoming wedding with unabashed joy and eagerness.  I only have an inkling of one side of their story:  the struggle to accept that love is the best part of any of us.  I don’t need to know anything else.  The way my heart rejoices over that anticipated fulfillment of hope is enough.

I cannot see my dear friend and her husband together without remembering their wedding day.  Her sister-in-law sharing that shortly after they started dating, her bother (my friend’s husband) told her “I’m in trouble – she’s my kryptonite.”  Yeah, I get sappy, and my heart turns mushy.

I know love doesn’t always equate to permanence, and sometimes the fairytale fades.  It doesn’t matter.  I still believe.  I believe with the same fervor with which I clapped to save Tinker Bell.  I believe with the same complete devotion I had for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Childlike?  Perhaps.  But never childish.

My natural inclination is to do everything I can to protect myself, and yet, in the face of love, that desperate inclination yields, and I shyly peek out from behind the wall.  I have commitment issues, and inverted abandonment issues.  I continually look over my shoulder, asking the question “Who?  Me?”  but the questions still, and my issues stop shouting for a moment whenever I encounter love.

In the face of love, the parts of me I have worked so hard to toughen up begin to soften.  Oh, I’ll protest and say that love is for fools.  I’ll crack jokes about loss of freedom, and being tamed, or, worse, domesticated.  I’ll say I’m too selfish and self-centered to ever settle down.  Actually, that last one might actually be true.  I’ll tell you that I’m fine being single and unattached, and I am.

But don’t believe me.

I am cynical and skeptical about a great many things, but never about love.

Advertisements

One Word 2018: Feel

One word.  A reminder.  A focus.  Sometimes it is a wish, a goal, something to aspire to.  In the past, the words I chose, or the ones that chose me seemed to take on a role that was different from what I thought they might play in my life.

My word for 2017 was “energy,” and I paid a lot of attention to how I used my energy, what seemed to feed it, and what seemed to drain it.  I noticed where I seemed to be getting smaller returns relative to the amount of energy I was investing.  My relationships started to change.  Some flourished, becoming stronger and deeper.  Some started to wither.  I became more protective of how I spent my energy.

I took long breaks from social media, no longer willing or able to marshal the energy necessary to insulate myself from people who did not share, and seemed unwilling to respect my outlook on life.  I began to withdraw from relationships where I felt constantly assaulted by criticism, and negativity.  I became increasingly protective of my energy, wanting to spend it wisely, but also to spend it where I felt it might do the most good.

Towards the end of the year, it occurred to me that one of the areas that might benefit from an investment of my energy was myself.  I started the hard work of trying to heal from the pain of losing my father, something I don’t think I’ve ever done properly or adequately.  I started paying attention to patterns of behavior that don’t benefit me or that have held me back.  During all of this work, there has been a recurring question: “What do you feel?”

I had learned to see every event in my life from someone else’s perspective.  I’d learned to understand that someone’s fear for my well-being might manifest itself in anger.  I’d learned to interpret silence as an indicator of how badly I had hurt someone I cared about.  I’d learned to make allowances for other people’s life experiences, pain, or naïveté.  I had even interpreted my own traumatic events in ways that somehow extended mercy or grace to another, while leaving none for myself.  I couched this perspective shift in terms of compassion, sympathy, even growth, but, in the process, I  denied that I have paid a very real emotional price for such understanding.

My word for 2018 is “feel.”  I’m giving myself permission to feel sad over even an understandable change in a friendship.  I’m giving myself permission to feel angry when someone lies to me.  Again.  I’m giving myself permission to feel joy over my nephew’s engagement.  I’m giving myself permission to feel deep gratitude for the people who have not given up on me.  It’s my nature to try to be understanding, but I’m going to try not to be so understanding that I deny how I have been affected by another’s actions.

Happy New Year, friends.  This year will, no doubt, come with some growing pains, and I want to feel them all.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Z

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

This selection seems particularly timely, given that its author, Robert Pirsig, passed away on Monday.

I first came to this book looking for a motorcycle story, but what I found was an introduction to a different way of thinking about life, and my place in it.  The ability to maintain a motorcycle becomes a metaphor for understanding all the underpinnings of a life, and being aware enough to make necessary adjustments when things get out of synch. This ability is contrasted with a more “romantic” approach that does not prepare or attempt to anticipate potential problems, which then relies on outside help when things go wrong.

What I liked about this book, another middle school discovery, is that it seemed to validate that my fascination with things scientific, and technical wasn’t necessarily at odds with my longing for beauty.

I was never quite able to completely embrace Pirsig’s philosophy, but it intrigued me, and, like all good experiences, it gave me quite a bit to think about, and still does.  It’s been a while since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I think it’s about time I pick it up again.  My motorcycles might not need any adjustments at this time, but my mind can always stand to be challenged.

The Year of Magical Thinking

Y

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

This one is a difficult selection for me.  Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking in response to the death of her husband, John Dunne, and it was published the same year that my father died.

Joan Didion writes about that odd feeling that, somehow, the deceased is only “away,” and will return.  It’s the reason she couldn’t give away her husband’s shoes; he would need them when he came back.  That her daughter also passed away during this time frame brings an added heartache to the story, and to the grieving process.

The book is very detached, almost clinical in its tone, which simultaneously helps to heighten the sense of loss, but also mitigate it somehow.  All I know is that when I lost my father, I also lost my way.  I did not know how to navigate the waters of grief and mourning, did not know how I was going to ever be “right” again.  In the face of that raw, excruciating pain, I needed a dispassionate voice to lead me to calmer waters.  In that, The Year of Magical Thinking was exactly the compass I needed.

 

 

Xenogenesis

X

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I have to make a confession here: I’m cheating.  Of the three works comprising the collection published under the title Xenogenesis, I’ve only read one: Imago.  I included this title in my list, so I could focus on its author, Octavia Butler.

I picked up Imago shortly after it was published, not realizing it was part of a series.  The fact that I have not gone back to read the other two books in the series is a major shortcoming of my reading character, and one I intend to correct after this A to Z challenge is finished.

It may have been the harder science fiction elements of genetic manipulation that first attracted me to Imago, but it was the “softer” elements, the social themes, and what it means to be human that kept me in thrall.  To be honest, I’ve always been drawn to stories that teach me how this human story plays out, that reveal the best, and the worst in all of us, and that suggest we can be better.  Octavia Butler is one of the masters of revealing the human condition.

I first read Kindred in high school, intrigued by the time travel aspect of the story.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute emotional power of the tale, the devastating artistry of the language. Kindred was the first book I read that revealed race to me in a way my upbringing in the military had not prepared me for.  It also put the Civil War in a context that I had never seen before.  The version I had been taught was almost sterile, but this was the antebellum South with little to veil it.

So why is Octavia Butler on my list?  Well, not only does she tell a hell of a story, and tell it with breathtaking artistry, but she was one of the first women science fiction writers I read.  From her, I learned to appreciate the unique timbre of a woman’s voice in writing.

 

Wuthering Heights

W

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I’ve mentioned my fondness for period films, and the books that inspired them.  Well, I’ve not seen a film version of Wuthering Heights that I particularly like, and, thanks to an English Lit professor I had, I probably never will.  More on that later.

I have to be honest here.  Although I love Emily Brontë’s writing, with all its brooding atmosphere, and distinctive characters, I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights.  I tried to like it, I really did, but I found Catherine to be annoying as hell.  And Heathcliff?  Well, I just thought he was a sadistic jerk.

Easily impressed by the trappings of nobility and privilege, Catherine foreswears Heathcliff because of his social status and rather course manner.  He runs off, she gets in a tizzy, she gets married, he comes back and seduces Catherine’s sister-in-law to get revenge. . . .Oh, dear GOD talk about a soap opera.

Wuthering Heights has the distinction of being a book I love for its language, and loathe because of its plot.  I like Emily Brontë’s use of parallel story lines across generations.  I like the way she sets the scene, the atmosphere, the sense of despair and isolation.  I even like how effectively she uses cruelty in the story.  I just wish she had told a different story.

So back to my English Lit professor.  Our prof was a little bit of an odd duck, and insisted that Wuthering Heights was actually quite funny.  As proof, he highlighted the rather bland cruelty Lockwood demonstrates in flirting with a young woman at the beginning of the story.  As soon as she shows interest, Lockwood returns her interest with disdain.  The prof found this particularly amusing, and lamented that none of the film versions got it right.  Of course someone had to ask him who he thought could make a film of Wuthering Heights he would find acceptable.  Without missing a beat, the prof replied, “Monty Python.”

Now THAT’S a film I’d be willing to see.

 

 

Veronika Decides to Die

V

 

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I did not intend to include two different books by the same author in my list.  In fact, it had been my intention that if there were two books that I felt important enough to include, that I would include the author, and reference the works as part of the blog post.  Well, best laid plans of mice and (wo)men and all that.

Paulo Coelho describes Veronika Decides to Die as being an autobiographical novel, but I don’t think he has ever revealed how much of the novel is factual.  It would be understatement to say that Coelho’s parents didn’t approve of his literary aspirations.  They had him committed to a mental institution while he was still a teenager.  He escaped multiple times before he was released at age twenty.

As the book opens, the title character has decided to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  Her attempt fails, and she wakes up in a mental institution.  She suffers from a series of cardiac events and is told that her heart was irreparably damaged in the attempt, and she is living on borrowed time.  Through her interaction with other patients, Veronika learns passive refusal to live is the same thing as actively choosing to die, and she had been guilty of both.  Eventually, she decides to choose life with all of its pain and uncertainty than to surrender to despair.

I encountered this book at a particularly dark time in my life when I struggled with the repercussions of my past, felt trapped, defined, and bound to it with no hope of redeeming it.  In this novel, I found not a panacea, but a kind of roadmap, a guide, if you will, to help me learn how to engage life rather than flee from it.