“I have loved to the point of madness; That which is called madness, That which to me, is the only sensible way to love.” ~ Francoise Sagan

April Snow-Covered Mountains over Portage, Chugach National Forest, Alaska by Janson Jones

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Sepia Docks (Wikimedia Commons)

Very melancholy today. I sense the stirrings of an impending fall. The days before a fall are always so precarious—I feel out of sorts but for reasons that I cannot quite discern. My senses are heightened; loud sounds unnerve me, and food does not taste exactly right. In other words, lots of things that are non specific, that I cannot quite grasp, hovering just beyond the periphery. 

I have wondered many times in my life how people who are even-tempered make their way through the days, never falling into the depths of despair, never flying on the wings of mania. I have wondered what my life would have been like if I had been blessed with an even temper, how much I might have missed if that had been my reality instead of this reality. 

I chose Janson’s picture of the mountains over Portage because I find it so incredibly intriguing. It’s spring snow, but because of the sepia tones, it could be sand. The picture itself undulates with its shadows and patches of light, which reminds me of my life, and how it moves in ripples, little peaks, sometimes deep vallies. And then again, moving through my life often feels like walking on sand: the slow trudge to make headway without losing my footing, the strain of climbing against grains that fall away with nothing to hold onto, the slow slide when going downhill. 

“Oh soul,
you worry too much
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.” ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Josef Sudek Still Life (w/sepia tones), 1954

I have been thinking about love for the past few days. Love in general. Love specifically. Motherly love. Passionate love.

Why do some people love so passionately while others are more reserved? Is it a matter of control, as in loving too much is giving up control? Do men love differently than women? In a relationship, are women the ones who love more? You know what I mean—there is always one person in the relationship who loves more than the other person. I think that being able to recognize this and accept it is a sign of maturity. 

Perhaps.

I mean, when you are young and newly in love, you want the other person to love you just as much as you love him or her, and nothing less will do. I think that once you have had some experience, you realize that no two individuals love in the same way, ever. But loving in the same way is not the same as loving less. I think that loving less reflects an unwillingness to give over the self to another, and this, I think, is directly tied to trust. 

As in Do I trust myself enough to lay myself bare to this other person? Do I trust this person enough to lay myself bare, to risk everything? It’s a tricky path, one that has no clear markers. 

“Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a
Stranger,
Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.” ~ Hafiz of Persia, The Gift

In looking back over past relationships, I realize that I used to fall in love easily, but that I did not stay in love unless there was an equity in the relationship. In my relationship with the pathological liar—which happened when I was quite young—my mind constantly sent warning signs that my heart overruled. It was not until I was willing to face the truth that I was able to break the cycle. 

Solitary Bench (w/sepia tone)

In my relationship with my ex, my love grew and adapted over the years, which is how it should be in a long-term relationship. However, my mind sent me warning signs that I chose to ignore: Yes, he drank, but was it really too much? Who says what is too much? Was I really the one who always took care of the details, or was I making too much out of things? I think that in the end, I needed the break as a result of exhaustion as much as anything else. I was bone-weary from fighting constantly, and the love I had within me felt drained and tainted. 

Now, with Corey, I am aware of many differences from past relationships, one of the main being that I feel a sense of protection that I never felt with anyone else, and I am not sure if that is because I have changed enough to let someone protect me, or if Corey’s protection allowed me to change. Another aspect that differentiates our relationship is the tenderness that Corey shows me. It is blissful to feel such tenderness.

That being said, there is still a part of Corey that I cannot touch, a part that he holds back in reserve for himself. I try not to see that as a statement about our relationship, but sometimes it’s hard. 

“Love is an attempt at penetrating another being, but it can only succeed if the surrender is mutual.” ~ Octavio Paz

I understand why he would feel a need to protect himself. I understand the deep wounds that he has. But understanding and accepting, unfortunately, are not the same. To reveal the self completely is to open the door to vulnerability. Few people will willingly walk towards vulnerability. It’s much too frightening. And then there is the sense that if a person holds something back, in reserve, then he can never be completely broken. 

Paris Street (ca 1925, w/sepia tone)

Yet if I am to be completely truthful, then I must admit that I long for him to be as open with me as I am with him, which makes me feel as if I am expecting something unreasonable. I mean, love is not ownership. Two individuals who love each other do not have to be completely immersed in each other in order for their relationship to succeed. In fact, it is usually better if each person has outside interests, things to occupy time away from each other. But this separateness can be taken to the extreme. 

I think of my own parents whose relationship was supremely dysfunctional, and I am amazed that I have ever been able to have a healthy relationship given what I witnessed. My father spent more of their marriage at sea than at home. When he retired from the Navy, he couldn’t stand being on dry land, and they couldn’t stand that much togetherness, so he became a merchant marine. My mother had her own interests, and my father had his. They only began to do things together when they were older. Still, my father was unfaithful numerous times, and my mother tolerated it, and I don’t understand that at all. 

My ex and I spent the first part of our marriage doing things together and the last part of our marriage with separate friends, going out separately, and it was rare that we came together to do something as just a couple. I hated that. Corey and I enjoy each other’s company, which is a good thing as we have spent the last two years practically living in each other’s skin, which is problematic all by itself. 

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” ~ Zelda Fitzgerald

White Rose (w/sepia tone)

In the end, though, this is what I believe: Love is not necessarily patient and kind and all of the other things Corinthians says that it is. Love is complex and intense. It is so much like dancing naked in the rain. It is risk and faults and failures. It is learning to love sushi and learning to appreciate things in life you may have never considered before. Love is as solid as it is ephemeral; it can burn like a dragon’s fire and soothe like the coldest mountain stream. Love takes courage, and it can be terrifying in the way it consumes. Love demands respect and in its deepest essence it hearkens to our finest natures. 

The human heart, both fragile and strong, is only amplified by love. And while the heart is a solid vessel, in its abstract form, it is an empty vessel, waiting for the elixir of life to fill it to satisfaction. Handled without care, the human heart can break into a million pieces, while at the same time, its ache can be taken away with a simple phrase. As Ondaatje says, “the heart is an organ of fire.” 

We can no more choose who we love than we can choose our natures. If we are lucky enough to find that true companion, the one who will take our hearts and hold them close, keep them safe, and refill their occasional emptiness, then we are fortunate indeed. 

Love is hard. Life is hard. To expect otherwise is to be naive. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Sarah Bareilles, “Gravity” 

 

Advertisements

“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

georgia-okeeffe-petunia-1925

Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

georgia-okeeffe-white-rose-w-lakspur-no-2
"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

georgia-okeeffe-from-the-lake-i
"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

georgia-okeeffe-black-hollyhock-blue-larkspur-1930
"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

georgia-okeeffe-calla-lily-turned-away-1923
"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

Georgia OKeeffe Jack in the Pulpit No IV
"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.

The Great Gatsby: Past is Present

So Much More Than a High School Assignment

“What Foul Dust Floated in the Wake of His Dreams”

Without fail, everyone in high school is assigned The Great Gatsby, and almost without exception, everyone hates it, or at least, fails to appreciate it. My youngest son and I were discussing this subject months ago, and I agreed with him that this particular book is wasted on someone in high school. I mean, I realize the idealism of trying to introduce the young mind to F. Scott Fitzgerald. At one time, I, too, believed that this was a worthy exercise.

But as they say, time is a great teacher. Gatsby is not a character who can be appreciated by youth, certainly not by an egocentric youth whose only concern is the world that rotates around his axis. Now I know that there is a contingent out there who will argue vociferously that that in itself is the very reason that Gatsby should appeal to a 17-year-old boy: because Gatsby never grew up and the world seemingly revolves around him. But Gatsby never grew up only in the sense that his love for Daisy has never aged and the world that revolves around him is completely superficial. But everything else that happens in the novel is moving in real time, leaving Gatsby behind.

I was remembering that particular passage in The Great Gatsby when Nick remembers Gatsby looking across the water at the blinking green light: “I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out Daisy’s light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city” (chapter 9).

“The Colossal Vitality of His Illusion”

I don’t remember how many times I have read Gatsby, or what new things I find each time I read it. I loved great-gatsby-bwthe original movie with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. They were perfectly cast—Farrow with her breathless voice and wide eyes, and Redford with his impossible good looks in his ice cream suits. It was a case of the book being brought to the screen perfectly, with Sam Waterson as narrator Nick Carraway.

I suppose I am reminded of Gatsby for many reasons this cold afternoon: the time in which it was set—the 20’s immediately before the Great Depression, when things were still seemingly golden, but the veneer was starting to wear off. Fitzgerald’s narrative reveals characters who are so out of touch with their surroundings that they fail to notice the suffering of others. They fail to stop for a dying woman or to care that she was run down in the road like a dog. All that matters is Daisy’s suffering, which is superficial. Only Nick notices because only Nick has a real job, works for a living, and has any sense of connection with the rest of the world. In the book, only Nick is actually invited to Gatsby’s party. Everyone else just drops in as they please, which in itself is very telling. Nick is mired in reality. He is the touchstone.

As the book closes, Daisy and Tom move on, careless of what they have left in their wake: Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson is dead because of Daisy. Gatsby is dead, killed by George Wilson, spurred on by Tom. But the Buchanan’s take their little girl and their servants and their money and move on, as if life is a mess to be taken care of by the less fortunate: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (chapter 9):

“A New World Material Without Being Real”

In high school, a sophomore or junior will probably take something like this away from the book’s plot: Gatsby made a lot of money and had great parties but still didn’t get his woman, so he must have been pretty lame. (I know, I’m being very simplistic.) But will they see the Buchanans as AIG, Shearson Lehman, and all of the other people on Wall Street? Daisy and Tom are the people who continued to collect multi-million dollar golden parachutes and head off to Cabo as thousands and thousands of people watched their retirement funds decrease in worth by 60 and 70 percent. In essence, the Buchanans are part of the $700 billion bailout package; you have to wonder what their cut will be, because undoubtedly, people like Tom and Daisy will come out on top.

Can a 16-year-old have an appreciation for George Wilson as a metaphor for Addie Polk, who, at 90 years old, shot herself in the chest rather than be evicted from her house? After all, all George Wilson wanted was a better life for himself and his wife. After George lost Myrtle, he had nothing to live for, so he killed the person who he thought was responsible for ruining his life, and then he shot himself. Addie Polk is recovering in the hospital, and her mortgage will be forgiven, but at what price the human heart?

eyes-of-t-j-eckleburgAnd then there are the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, always looming on the side of the road. He seems to be watching, but just how effective is he? He sees Myrtle’s death. He sees Daisy fleeing the scene. He sees everything that happens in the Valley of Ashes, that long stretch between the Eggs, where nothing prospers. But he does nothing. He is impotent because he is only a symbol. We know about impotent symbols. Oh, I’d say Dr. Eckleburg is about as effective as Congress and W. in their oversight of what was happening in the years leading up to this massive economic meltdown?

Which leaves Nick Carraway and Gatsby. I tend to think of the American people as Gatsby for the most part: looking for that green light, that signal that everything is essentially okay, never realizing that perhaps, the good days are in the past for now. Gatsby so wanted to believe that he could throw parties and buy new shirts and have great meals, and not have to answer to his past as Jay Gatz. But in the end, that’s who he was.

The only one standing was Nick Carraway, and he was left with the mess. Nick was always the smart one. He didn’t overindulge. He wasn’t taken in by Daisy’s cousin Jordan, even though she was beautiful and sensual. In the end, Nick was a changed man, not the innocent who entered the lives at the beginning of the story, yet he still grasps a tenuous kind of hope that things will get better:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (chapter 9)

So who does Nick represent? The American people when all of this is over? The American People who voted for Barack Obama hoping for change, for better things to come. I suppose that we’ll just have to wait and see.

“The Incarnation was Complete”

When I began this entry, I really wasn’t certain where I was going. I just knew that The Great Gatsby was on my mind, and as I continued to write, the connections to real-time events just fell into place. It’s odd how that happens sometimes: two seemingly disparate subjects meeting and connecting. Maybe it has something to do with that String Theory that I’m trying to wrap my head around, but I have to admit that physics is just beyond the edge of my relative intelligence, so we aren’t going there today.

The Great Gatsby remains one of my favorite classic reads, as do most of Fitzgerald’s works. I also find the whole Zelda Fitzgerald story incredibly intriguing, but I’ll save that for another time. But Gatsby himself is such a tragic portrait of a man, and I am only half kidding when I say that high school students cannot appreciate this story. More, it’s a matter of how much they want to put into the book in order to get something out of it. But as with many stories, the reveal does increase significantly with time.

Let me close with this wonderful passage from Chapter 6, one that I missed on the first few readings:

“He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.  No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Man, if only I had created the phrase “ghostly heart.” More later. Peace.