Welcome and entertain them all

I am interested in this man, and we talk. He tells me of his life, work, and power, and I am tongue-tied. I might retreat into small-talk, and cannot bear to: just to pass time, until the time is passed. I want to open my heart and be real together, and my heart prompts me to say, I have not worked for eleven years, and I rarely go out. Shame stops me. My brain comes up with various things I could say and stops me saying any of them.

What is this shame? What good can it do me? It might have been introjected to bind me. It might be my own. I retreat from the world, hoping to heal, hoping to get to know myself and be able to face it again. I am not sure but I might be making progress.

In that moment, the shame was fully conscious. I feel it now. Is it shame because I ought to face the world manfully, and bestride it? Have I a right to protect myself in this way? Well, right or not, I protect myself. What now?

I sit in my room, numbed out, noodling. The Feelings are there, all the time, mostly out of consciousness but not quite- fear, shame, anxiety, perplexity, sadness. Occasionally one leaps out and floors me, paralyses me, overwhelms me.

The only thing that can free me from Love is Love.
I see you. I imagine you active, happy, determined, triumphant
worried, perplexed
and resent you have no thought of me.
Cursing myself for being ridiculous does no good.
Wanting nothing from you, I might feel free to love.
Loving, I might let go and want nothing.
It feels like a virtuous circle too far above me to reach.
The resentment is mean, small, ineffectual.
It has my worst qualities, and my face.
I reach out to touch its cheek.

Then what?
It sucks me, screaming, into it?
It enters my heart, and my heart expands?

The resentment is not a problem to be solved
or dross to be transmuted.
It is a companion, a guide from beyond.

Can I love myself?
I was taught which parts to love, and which to fear.
Fearing, I held my heart down until it changed shape.
How can I love it as it is now?

I do not know what I might be.
I only know I must love as best I can.

On Monday, five of us wrestled in conversation. It was the right people at the right time. We did some good. I played my part. I gave myself wholly and entirely to a problem which could be easily solved by hurting someone, searching for a better way, and in the process learned something about myself and about boundaries. I was taught to discount the good. I must recognise and celebrate all the good.

Facing the shame and the guilt:

-What are you doing with your one precious life?
-I am healing myself as best I know how. Sometimes I take action which seems good to me. It never seems enough to me, and I doubt I am making progress in healing, and sometimes a feeling seems to hit me like running into a wall.

I want to be sure, and I am unsure of anything.

Rumi says, “You have to keep breaking your heart, until it opens”.

A sonnet of Love

In In search of lost time, Swann has aristocratic friends and is welcomed in the salons of Paris society, until he marries Odette, his mistress.

She glowed. “Ah, what a pleasure to receive.”
Odette’s sweet radiant delight caressed
Swann’s virgin heart, awakening it. She blessed
his touch-starved hand with hers, began to weave
in him a passion he would not believe.
Unknown wellbeing faded, as you guessed.
The man, the lover, undertook a quest
the salon raconteur could not conceive.
The valued, welcomed, connoisseur of art
might keep a mistress, quietly. Men have needs.
He marries her, and has what once he craved.
A rule is broken. Monsters will be freed!
His friends are friends no more. Each shields her heart.
Convention reasserted, they are saved.

Love and Poe

How could I Love, and want to cause you pain?
You truly saw me. I felt such delight
I knew if I could blossom in your sight
I would have all I ever strove to gain
And then we talked, that morning in the rain
My words flowed beautifully, calm and right
and yet our conversation was so slight
you soon forgot it all, and my insane
obsession with the thought of you was vain.
The ghost of you now haunts me in the night
I know I can no longer bear the strain
or flee you though my only goal is flight
I’m innocent, but bear the mark of Cain
The world will have no pity for my plight
and now I have no stomach for the fight
I saw you as you fell from that great height.

Petrarchan sonnets are difficult, but not because of the rhyme scheme. A “stretched sonnet” has sixteen lines or more.

What is love?

You cannot understand love through words, only experience. I still can’t get my head round Je t’aime meaning “I like you” and “I love you”. There are four words for Love in Ancient Greek: storge, family love; philia, friendship; eros, romantic love; and agape, the unconditional love of God. We are commanded to love God, and “Love your neighbour as yourself”- “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.

In 1979, Dorothy Tennov coined the term “Limerence”, which is an intense desire for a person, hoping they will reciprocate. Saying “I am in love” when not aware of being loved always felt wrong to me too. In The Makropoulos Case, a man sings “I am in Love, like a soul in torment”. Evolution is a source of suffering: all a bacterium has to do to reproduce is eat until it splits, but humans need to parent someone for twenty years or more, so the drives making us take on such responsibility have to be strong. Evolution cares not that your limerent object does not love you- at least, not yet.

Love is a human need. We are a social species, dependent on our society. Love bonds us together, and if someone is unloved they are vulnerable. There you are, lying on your back. Suddenly the nutrition that was flowing through your belly button has stopped. You cry out for sustenance, warmth.

So later the phrase “I love you” can be reassurance, but also a demand, a question, or a hope- “You love me too, don’t you?” Co-dependence arises when we cannot love ourselves and depend on another. Qoheleth says, “If two lie together they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?”

A child loved and accepted develops healthy self-love and acceptance, but this is never complete. Everyone’s parents hand on some misery to them.

So, other people are having a hard time. Thus, the Commandment. Love your neighbour as very best you can. People need all the gentle kindness we can muster. It is almost like Keynesian economics: our wealth is not in love we can hold, but how fulsomely love flows among us. Feeling loved, I am enabled to love.

I agreed to start off a conversation on Love today, and then join a group where the invitation was to write and bring a love letter/poem to self and share it. I found myself writing a sonnet:

How can I love what I was taught to hide,
even from myself, behind a great pretence?
The feminine soft soul whom I denied
and buried in a quicksand, dark and dense.
My fragile, wounded, narcissistic pride
in intellect unfeeling rose immense,
Beneath the weight of its desires it died
Till I was left with nothing but a sense

of something seeming weak and badly hurt
All I could hear it saying was, “No, no”
and so I tend an ember in the dirt
and mourn it. How could I be brought so low?
But there’s the beauty. That is what is real
My source of love and truth is what I feel.

“A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,” I thought to myself, dissatisfied. But sonnets are hardly worn out, and my problem with it was it was too direct. The ember in the dirt clings on to self-love and survival by my fingernails. I grow to love what I was taught to despise. This is hard work. Strong love and support from others never seems enough. And yet I am getting there.

Love is the way to freedom, but loving myself feels like pulling myself up by my bootstraps. If self-love is based upon what I admire in myself, then it is fragile. My belief in what there is to admire varies. To be stable, my self-love has to be based on a commitment to myself: this is my one life, my one body, my one set of gifts and characteristics, so I want to make as good a go for that self as I can. So loving myself is as much of a commitment and an effort as loving anyone else is.

I did not want to write I love myself because. I have these good qualities therefore I am lovable. No- what if I am deluded? Then my hope for survival hangs on qualities I must assert against all evidence to the contrary. All qualities fail. I am lovable, simply because I am human. I am human, therefore I love.

I love you

I cycle on quiet roads.
Buildings cast shadows on buildings opposite.
The Light
on trees, stone, skin, purple clouds
makes me cry in de-Light,
sigh in delight.

Love is one thing.
Limerence, wanting them to look at you
Storge, family love,
all one thing.
It is radiance, and the need for it.
Darling- let your bewitching attention
Shine on me!

The hunger is terrifying. My sensitivity is terrifying.
So I have my deepest desire,
to hide away alone and not be seen.
Might I be subsumed, like a male Angler fish?
Ah. There’s the self-contempt.

Your light is an earthquake in me.
Your voice is warm as the Sun.
Broken open,
the cracks are where the light shines Out.
My breasts are full.

Love is one thing.
It flows like water
so that who gives and who receives cannot be known.
Or a dream of water in a desert
making thirst more painful.
Take every chance to express love
however mad you seem.
I love you.

Storge is an ancient Greek word, στοργή, for love within families. Part of the inspiration for this was this voice message, which you might not be able to hear as it is substack, and which led me to write a fangirl reply. Written on an exceptionally warm, sunny 2 January.

Should I visit Edinburgh?

The sadness comes upon me, like a predator.
At its touch I stiffen and writhe.
I must collapse on my bed, weeping, wailing,
possibly screaming.
It will prove its mastery of me.
And then, a change.
The sadness is in me. It is me. It fills me,
chest, belly, fingertips
I know I am big enough to contain it.
That knowledge is relief and delight.
I hold the sadness, dance with it:
I am aware of its fulness,
and, satisfied, it flows through my heart.

Not permitted to show my sadness
I fought it, and it curdled into sorrow,
a weight I could not bear.
And now it flows like water.

But what of my love?
My breasts are full,
and I have no-one to suckle.

Yes I could go there. It would be lovely.
We would walk by the firth.
I love the way you live your life,
your courage and tenacity, meeting the challenges.
I would see him, and her, possibly her, and him,
whom I wish well.
I might call up she
who was cursed to see my full beauty,
and love me for thirty years.
When, too late, I saw it
Her love warmed and perplexed me.
She has got over me at last.
She might not come.
I might meet a wise woman.

We faced the traumas side by side
but walled apart.
We did not have each other then.
On two islands, we wish each other well
but to reach you, I must cross that sea,
the pain of the past,
the terror of death.
It is easier to wave at you and smile, then turn away.

You want to meet me too!
Would we be blown apart, or sink?
or would we hold the terror,
adults together,
at last, enabled to touch?
We would dance with it.
It is us.

If I can feel all the overwhelming sadness and terror,
might I feel joy as well?

I imagine you asking,
How is your life? What have you been doing with yourself?
I have wrestled my dragon
but not yet climbed on its back.
We watch each other warily.
We want to fly together, and feel land bound.
Nothing, I say. I have stayed in my room for ten years.

You have such presence! they told me. You’re just there!
They missed me when I did not come.
One sees “a lovely air of authority”.
My bafflement increases their enthusiasm.
At last, they make me smile uncertainly.
Could they be right?
What might I do, if they were?

Two poems

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is strange. It consists of hundreds of sections, stuffed in an envelope, edited by others. We do not know what order they should be in, or whether any particular section should be included. They are beautiful. I summarised twenty sections in 26 lines, and included a reference to the death of Newton. Continue reading