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love. and other gutpunches.

November 9, 2010

apparently that painting is (maybe) supposed to be hung on the side.

love is a universal theme. we write about our love for other people – familial love, passionate love, platonic love, friendly love. we write about our love for things – for music, for the written word, for art, for sports. we write about our love for nature – for the ocean, the north, the floes, the trees.

i would say that writers tend to focus the most on romantic love – the love for another person, unrequited love, passionate love, sexual love, long-lasting love. just look at shakespeare’s sonnets – hell, anyone’s sonnets, look at astrophil and stella, look at any parody – the important of being earnest – look at songs, poems, stories. the theme of love beats underneath so many works, this very audible and lovely thrumming thing.

our lives seem to be driven by this romantic love. we do affirmations to find it. we open our chakras to find it. we sit in coffee shops to find it. we date to find it. we date online to find it. we hazard a smile at a complete stranger to find it. we go out, we come back home. we turn our heads when we walk by somebody on the street who catches our eye. you can deny that you aren’t interested in that whole scene – and some people are asexual, so that could be true – but it seems to me that the human functions best in its finding a mate. i feel like i’m going catch a lot of flack for this. i know we are young. for many of us, the idea of settling down is so far back in our minds that it is painful, troublesome, a little scary to pull up to the forefront. that is true. and i can do things now, as a single woman – travel by myself, go out dancing, dedicate myself completely and steadfastly to my writing. and i love that right now. and i’m sure many young people are the same way. but all the way down the line, when we grow older, companionship is on the menu. the terms “spinster” and “bachelor” aren’t entirely pleasant ones. some people will maintain that lifestyle with pleasure, but so many of us want to find somebody who can weather us. but feel free to argue with me on this one.

this is very hard for me to write, on here, but i thought that it was appropriate to tackle since this is all about being honest in the name of writing, and because i had already written about sex. love and sex are often written in hand – word in word. nobody likes to admit their weaknesses, their short-comings. and so many times i do hide behind the written word and the computer screen in order to hide my shortcomings. not that this doesn’t make for some damn good poetry, but it’s probably best to get it out in the open.

i have serious difficulties writing love scenes. not sex scenes – those are different. but love scenes. scenes where romantic, passionate love is expressed and is manifested and where that genuine emotion happens. and this is because i have never been in love, and i have never been loved. (note that i am from now on using the word “love” in reference to romantic love – for another person. obviously i am in love with my writing, and i am in love with toronto, and obviously my parents love me – or at least i hope so. but that is not the point. we are not talking about things, or familial love.)

i do not have a reference for these scenes. and yes. i am a writer. point taken. i can use my imagination – it’s what i am good at. that is what i am doing here, in this MFA program. i can write a scene and think “oh yes, that seems right, that seems pretty good. is that good? yes i think it is pretty beautiful.” but even the greatest impressionist artists had subjects, still life forms to work from. even the best portrait painters had someone to sit for them. it takes a true talent to call something from imagination. if i write a scene from an AIDS hospice, i am borrowing from a scene in a palliative care ward in a Toronto hospital. if i am writing about the Canadian north, i am basing my characters off of people that i met up there while working at Kesagami. if i am writing about being Ukrainian, i am writing it from an actual experience at Malanka. i am extrapolating, but there is something that i am basing it off of.

if someone were to tell me to write a postcard story with the prompt “the love of your life” i would have to write something tongue in cheek. i would not be able to open myself and write something real. i would have to write about a material love – writing, music, etc. there is something so very sad in that, and yet also troubling. because –

– it brings to mind insecurities in yourself as a writer. things run through your head. how can i write this? i’m not valid. does not compute. i’m faking it. i’m faking it. is this right? it might be compared to a virgin writing about sex. just because you have watched pornography doesn’t mean you write about the sensations, the ramifications of sex. what if i get called out on being a faker for love? what if someone says “ack! this is ridiculous. are you writing a romance novel, you hack?” or if someone says “this is not real. what the hell reference point do you have for this?”

and then i wonder: can i transfer the all-consuming passion i have for my writing, my muses – can i move that over to writing romantic love scenes in fiction? i often think that this is possible. but then something tells me that love is non-transferable. that there are different spheres to love, and the passion i have for my writing love and my muses is not going to be able to slotted over into romantic love scenes.

this is not a cry for love. i am a fairly unique person. i am abrasive and blunt and yet also anxious and insecure. i throw myself into my writing or whatever other thing i am passionate about, and i obsess over it. i have an addictive personality. when i do something, i want to do it right. i look at it from all angles. every day it is a struggle for me to release a little and relax. it takes me a long time to get out of my apartment on some mornings because i get fed up with every other single person in the world. and so it takes an equally strong person to rein me in and support me, deal with me, be just as rude back to me. it takes a very bad night – a pretty low moment – for me to be upset about being single because being single is affording me some amazing opportunities.

and then i think that maybe writing about love is like dancing the tango. just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t mean you can’t feel the music somewhere deep within your gut. and it’s important to take that gut punch and run with it for as far as you can. as a writer, i feel those gut punches. you get them when you see a couple so obviously in love that it makes you tear up. you get them when you read a love sonnet that is written by someone so obviously besotted that it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up like little soldiers.

oh, it’s a complicated subject, this true love.

and yes, one time i thought that i did love someone. and he was a very bad person. so maybe that ties into it all, too.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 12:19 pm

    Man. I know exactly what you mean. Writing about love is extremely difficult, which is why I almost never even attempt it. There’s only a few stories I can think of in my thesis that deal with love, and even then they aren’t exactly happy, romantic stories.

    In fact I’m almost not even sure that I believe in love as an actual thing. But I’m also not sure if I can say that, because it might make me the most cynical person alive.

    • November 9, 2010 8:28 pm

      I’m not sure if I believe either. But a cynic of cynics might say that is because I have not experienced it. So I am at a deficit here. Can I genuinely make up for it? I don’t know. How can I find an editor who reads specifically for love?

  2. Lydia permalink
    November 9, 2010 12:27 pm

    Nan,

    Just beautiful. It has been a long time, and this just popped up on my mini-feed so I decided to take a break from work. So glad I did.

    Miss you,

    Lydia

    • November 9, 2010 8:29 pm

      Thanks Deeter.

      I am so happy that you took the time to make a comment! It really makes me happy. :0

      Love
      Nans

  3. Lucie permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:07 pm

    I’m really happy I took a break and read this article.

    For me, this is definitely a little sad. I often find myself writing quite cynically about love and relationships and it troubles me to know that this is a way that many people seem to feel. A life lived without being loved, but maybe most of all, a life lived without truly loving, is in many ways, simply said, impoverished. The feeling of love towards another, that joy in caring about someone else more than yourself, the fact that you have someone to share your interests with, or talk about your day with, those are gifts that enrich our lives more than anything we can do for ourselves. Not experiencing mutual love is a withholding of another dimension to our lives. And it’s sad to see that if we are deprived of this incredible life experience, our writing reflects the cynicism and in turn perhaps fuels it in society.

    There are very few people I can think of that I know that are actually in love, mutually! Lots of people are in love with someone who doesn’t love them back, or someone is in love with them, but they don’t feel the same way. I myself can’t say I’ve ever actually experienced mutual love. And I feel the longer we go without it, the more, like Dan hinted, it seems like a myth, or, I would say, an enigma. And the more we believe that it’s not available to us, thus the more cynical we get.

    One of the reasons for why many people are prevented from experiencing love is due to their own fear of feeling it. Partly, this fear may stem from bad past relationship experiences. Part of being single is getting used to one’s self, discovering what makes us happy independently of others, and what we enjoy doing. In essence we go through a self realization and discovery process, so that we arrive at the very necessary place of being happy with ourselves and not seeking to be fulfilled by a relationship. This wonderful place of being however may cause a fear of the loss of self in relationship just as single-dom and its benefits become glorified as things that cannot be equally enjoyed when one is in a relationship. We become afraid of having to give up all the things we enjoy and of having to alter our lives to fit around someone else. We become afraid that the strong, assertive, abrasive ‘us’ we have become doesn’t leave any space for anyone else to enter. I think this is a misconception – or maybe I’m delusional. But I think that love won’t ask you to become someone other than you are but will encourage you to be more of who you are.

    Going back to the idea of writing about love if we haven’t experienced it… I think that romantic love is just another layer of love, another dimension of love. But we’re all capable of feeling love, or of sensing what it might feel like to be in love or to be loved. The love that we will hopefully one day experience is already inside of us. So, in my opinion, writing about this love is a matter of accessing it within. Even if we haven’t experienced ideal love, or complete or mutual love, I think we all have a knowing of what it is within ourselves, independently of another. And we’ve all experienced some sort of variation of romantic love and loving, even if it was sad or unhappy or hurtful, it’s a valid addition to the discussion of the experience of love.

    I’ve gone on a great tangent. Thanks for spurring these thoughts.

  4. krissy permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:53 pm

    Just read this and the comments and I have lots of rambling thoughts on this that I want to share, now that it’s been cracked open, and I have to wait for my soup to cool so I thought I may as well.

    It’s impossible to not get personal when talking about this but I guess I wanted to point to the flip side of having never experienced romantic/sexual love — which is to have experienced what seems like more than your fair share of it and not enough of other forms of love.

    All through my teens and early twenties I was perpetually boyfriended, and first really fell in love when I was seventeen. The person I was in love was also in love with me, and when the truth was out it was like two asteroids crashing together. It was undeniably a peak of my life up until that point… trajectories forever changed, becoming merged with another person, all that..and I feel blessed to have had that experience, and the three year relationship that followed.

    But the thing is, being in a romantic and sexual relationship with a man became my primary arena for selfhood. I felt valuable, but only insofar as I was as a girlfriend, and it was hard to imagine myself having any value in the world outside of that value. When I moved to Ghana in my early twenties, I was single for the first time..well, ever, since I was…well…really young. Every day I worked with a group of about thirty children and three Ghanaian women. The children called me “aunty” and the women called me “sister.” It was a kind of love, a suistery love between women and a parental love between adults and all children (it takes a village to raise a child etc) that I had never experienced before, and a kind of embeddedness in a community in which I belonged, and for the first time, that belonging didn’t depend on romantic and sexual male affirmation.

    This sound cheesy, but I felt whole for the first time in my life. I couldn’t have known what the feeling was until I felt it, but when I did feel it, I looked back at my former life which had felt so full and saw it as, in this particular way, impoverished. I had so much more room to move because I had a whole new arena for selfhood.

    My stepmom was single for ten years after her first marriage, and she was saying to me one time (when I came back from Ghana and, in shock of that sisterly and community love vanishing like it had never existed, started throwing myself into bad relationships with men) that “The relationship is like the icing on the cake – it’s nice and everything — but you’re the cake.”

    It’s like, for years, I was all icing and no cake.

    The prospect of being a “spinster” is only truly scary when being in a relationship is your primary arena of selfhood (and I don’t know how much this is heteronormative, ie. does it have to do with being in a relationship at all, or being in a relationship with a man in a society where women can only access power and validity through their proximity to men?).

    Anyway, my soup has cooled down.

    Krissy

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