Looking at this construction at a remove, it’s easy to see the trap. Setting out to love yourself because that’s the only way to gain love from others is a knot that undoes itself when pulled; needlessness as the tactic to get something one needs is impossible. But it’s an attractive emotional tautology in part because it keeps those who subscribe to it trapped in its hamster wheel, forever able to blame ourselves for wanting, when the fact of wanting is both the reason for never finding a relationship and the proof that we are not ready for it.
(originally published on my now defunct Medium page, sometime in 2015)
Hell is the incapacity to be other than the creature one finds oneself ordinarily behaving as.
Aldous Huxley — Eyeless in Gaza
Love is easy, here’s what you do:
Tell her you love her every day, several times a day. Fucking mean it as if your life depended on it. Hell, your life does depend on it.
Did you have a fight? Are you carrying a grudge? Slow down, don’t call her just yet. Go first look at a picture of her, the one you like best. Yes, that one where she’s happy, complete and laughing as if nothing else mattered. Talk to the picture, tell it that you’re a sorry moron (because you know you are) and that you love her and fucking mean it. Now call her and tell her that.
Can’t call just now? Did she hurt your feelings badly? Are you sad? Well boo-hoo-fucking-hoo. What are you going to do? Mope? Sulk like a child whose toys have been taken away? Or are you going to grow a pair and grasp that you’re the shithead who provoked it? Make amends you simpleton. Remember that once you’ve been your usual cretinous self it’s almost always too late to make amends. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. Do it now.
Your fucking “standards” don’t matter, you pathetic little nitwit. Don’t ever be so arrogant as to think that you have deserved to be loved by someone like her, you haven’t. You were just lucky that someone peeked inside you and found a flame to kindle, remember that. We should all be so lucky.
When she shares something with you, no matter how trivial, understand it for what it is: you have been chosen to carry a fragile and unique gem that you need to protect and tend to. And guess what, no one gives a flying fuck about your accounting of the credits and debits of the laying bare of souls. A single one is enough for you to carry a debt you can never hope to repay.
Know every millimiter of her body as if it were your own, know it better that your own. There is a place for lust of course, but unless you’re an animal, don’t succumb to it until you’ve accepted how the simplest of her gestures or a flick of her hair can floor you and leave you breathless. Don’t be a fucking animal.
You don’t absolutely need a constant confirmation of her love for you. Don’t be an insecure little shit and trust your instincts. Only contemplate asking when you feel completely like yourself and of good cheer. Only then. There is darkness inside us all yes, but try to get rid of it (and for fuck’s sake don’t think for a minute that the darkness makes you any more “interesting”). The both of you are one now, not a unit of you plus her. Darkness will only get in the way and cast doubt when it finds the slightest opportunity.
And by the way, did you tell her you love her? Did you fucking mean it?
If you didn’t, if you can’t, if you’re not sure about all this, if you are stupid enough to think that you “need to think about it” or even if, hey, you reach the conclusion that maybe you’re not in love with her, then get the fuck out of her way.
Stop wasting her life and go be an imbecile on your own time.
I’ve had the incredible luck of having parents naturally inclined to confront all of their children with copious amounts of beauty in any shape or form, even if sometimes complex for very young minds. Not only was reading books, listening to music or appreciating art very much encouraged but also developing a sense of superior harmony in manners, kindness, humbleness and sense of humour.
I’m not absolutely certain that the way I’ve led my life has always made them justice; come to think of it very often it has not, but be it as it may, the dots are still here in the sense that I hope that what they meant is that our quest was never one for absolute perfection but rather for a continued clarity and modesty in bettering our ways.
They are responsible for my first contact with classical music: it was a book-and-record version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I couldn’t have been older than ten and at that age, at least to me, music wasn’t “classical”, “modern” or anything else, there were just two kinds of music: good music and bad music.
Prokofiev made a profound and long-lasting impression on me not the least because Peter and the Wolf is one of the few pieces of classical (or rather, “classical”) music written specifically for children. It should come as no surprise that there is an animated version by Walt Disney, which was the one I first experienced. Since it is a piece specifically for narrator and orchestra, the combination of story and music, for a child of ten, is simply too potent a fix to resist: I was hopelessly hooked.
I loved everything about it (still do) especially the way the characters are portrayed by different instruments which makes it fascinating to identify them and their dialogues throughout the music: Sasha the bird is a flute, Sonya the duck an oboe, the french horns play the wolf, the strings play Peter, the grandfather is a bassoon and the hunters Misha, Sasha and Vladimir are woodwinds and martial trumpets, their guns the percussion instruments. For a portuguese kid at the other end of Europe just those names alone were a promise of wonder. My favourite however was always Ivan the cat, played by the clarinet. I’m not a cat person at all and have always liked dogs better but that clarinet sweeping like a comfortable, gentle and familiar breeze over the music is simply fascinating. It’s not an obvious instrument to like of course and I have no other explanation to offer other than the fact that Sydney Bechet’s music entered my life at approximately the same time.
There’s a movie version somewhere which I can’t find but here’s the original book version:
Prokofiev naturally led to Fantasia, still one of my top ten movies of all time and one which incidentally made me both very afraid and very curious about Mussorgsky: listening to Night on the Bald Mountain at that age gave me actual nightmares. I don’t know if it still does because I remain a little afraid of discovering that it will.
At this point I was an addict and there was no going back.
I needed my dose at regular intervals and it thankfully appeared in the form of a Sunday afternoon television program called Young People’s Concerts, where Leonard Bernstein explained and demonstrated everything about classical music with such an apparent simplicity that to this day I still hold them as the very best way to create new addicts out of anyone, young or not. It has everything you’d want to know about concertos, symphonies, music modes, melodies, sonatas, waltzes, orchestras small and large and even jazz.
There is a DVD for sale (9 DVDs actually) and I’m sure you can find the individual episodes on YouTube (all 53 of them), but do try to watch them in the proper sequence. It will change your life, I promise.
Since then, it’s just been a matter of connecting the dots, sometimes adding new ones, making sure they fit with the existing ones in a way my parents would likely agree with even if they were new to them too.
In the end what my parents gave me, knowingly or not, is priceless: they planted a few or many dots (it doesn’t really matter how many) but more importantly they made me aware of everyone’s natural curiosity to connect them and set them alight. They made me see that beauty lies in connecting those dots in as many ways as you can with endless and gleaming threads of light.
They made me see that that’s precisely and simply where love (love, yes) is.
An astonishingly lucid essay by Jonathan Franzen on how constantly ‘liking’ odd bits on social networks can never amount to — and is probably even incompatible with — loving someone. Worth reading while waiting for his new book.
We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.
We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.
(And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of publishing this very post all over the internet; I hope that, should you click that ‘Like’ button, you too will be aware of it.)
Half an exercise. For connoisseurs, and for the refreshment of their spirits.
We’re not lost, not too much.
We walk amidst a lavish abundance, one of beauty in minuscule moments and also in breathtaking excesses yet muse almost exclusively on its absence and seem to only find comfort in the bleakness of realising how distant it appears to be.
How quickly do we look for protection within the limits of accepted virtue and how much do we forfeit when we capitulate in the face of this shame we don’t see imposed?
Three and a a rule
I submit that euphoria as a result of experiencing incomprehensible and overwhelming beauty is an extension of breathing, of sleeping and dreaming; a warm skin in full bloom, growing; a function of the body, not shameful and most certainly not distinguishing.
That is however neither what we are taught nor is it what we teach. We are taught to worship and enforce the median and we mostly comply, afraid, unaware or both, of its dissonant implications.
Isn’t education more valuable when it reveals our endless capacity to resonate? Isn’t it nobler then? As humans we already know the tears to be shed in the face of gloom and despair. It seems to follow that we also ought to know the wonder to be sensed in the face of glory.
Six and a rule
I submit that learning to resonate to beauty is the single most important lesson we can receive or offer and that the process of discovering it is in itself recursive, a marvelous canon to our infinity.
The fear of isolation is real; after all, once embraced, who can truly see the divide between one’s quiet path, no matter how lush, and the cliff beside it, the one that leads to a black ocean of despair, abandonment, anger, and resignation? Thus we take solace in the opinion of others as they take in ours, as to how we should be led, if not also as to the final destination.
Do we really need this constant feedback on our mental whereabouts? Do we once stop to consider that we may well not be that easy to lead astray and that the others, those whose feedback we use, as they use ours to carry on, may just be exactly as unaware of their inner good skills at direction as we are? Are we not squandering our unique foresight (which is frightening sometimes, yes), in the name of the false security of a characterless herd?
Nine and a rule
I submit that the very essence of our humanity is precisely how we each experience elevation in our own unique way; not only does the contemplation of that which silences us make us more human but also the realisation of that blooming in others around us. Only by sharing the excitement of all our astonishments do they become completely our own.
It sometimes seems as if there is far too much which is worthy of absorption; how can we possibly appreciate and catalogue everything and also have the time to correlate it with everything else, without dedicating a whole life to it, without becoming an hermit? Isn’t life simply moving too fast?
It is endearing to see how easily and quickly we fall in love with filing systems, categories, and folders, as if they or any other devices were able to contain the flood. We are constantly told that the world is moving faster and faster and that renouncing to comprehend it will forever leave us standing, that we might just as well be dead, that this is a task of supreme priority in detriment of those around us if need be.
Twelve and a rule
I submit that it is only by slowing down to near immobility that we can wholly perceive both the real speed of the world moving around us and the false and trivial myth of its acceleration. Only then can we finally sense its slow, monumental, almost imperceptible cadence, of which all other urgencies are but a declination.
The cacophony of recipes for catering to one’s self-aggrandizement is staggering; it has become an industry of astonishing proportions, a putrid cesspit of competitors all trying to claim to have found the one, easy to follow, fool-proof sequence of steps to solving all of life’s mysteries and more. Just give me 14.99€, and I’ll show you who you are and what you can become, they say.
Are we not mistaking those recipes for something that they’re not? Have we lost so much confidence in ourselves that we so readily believe that our inner life is in any way different from the outer one? That we trust an outsider to show us an hypothetical map to our very core? That there is such a thing as a method at all, any method?
Fifteen and a conjugation
I submit that there is nothing we must do to empower and amplify the tuning fork within, that we just need to stop, sit down, listen and see, that we need to learn to be exactly and only with ourselves as it is the only true path to truly being with everyone else.
In the end it isn’t important to perfect our openness to wonder at all. Without it, however, we’ll forever be a shadow of ourselves.
Air. Again and to the end.
We are not lost, no. We are just a little in awe of all the opulence.