Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘love’

Go You or I

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. Exactly. We are more kin than stranger. We are more alike than different. We share more than we own. The infinitesimal difference between us is nothing much at all, and is often due more to luck than intent.

No, it isn’t because of all the wonderful things we’ve individually accomplished to make ourselves uniquely special. It isn’t because we’ve worked so diligently that we’ve earned our blessings. It’s just blind luck.

As blind as justice that lets most criminals escape and most victims suffer without relief and many innocent bear the weight of the true criminal. As blind as the man dragging his fingers along the wall that keeps him out before he realizes it’s a barrier to keep him from falling into a chasm. As blind as the baby in the womb who can’t see his mother’s face yet trusts that the salty sea will continue to nourish until he’s pulled into a dry embrace that feels aberrant . Until he is calmed by those arms, those breasts, those noises so unlike the lu-DUB lu-DUB he’d found his first salve, and falls asleep to his new comfort.

We all need and want, dream and aspire. You the limelight, her the career, him the acknowledgement, them the community, me the opportunity. Really, no more a difference than a wooden plaque or bronze statue.

And after the applause or the star on the chart, all we really want is to be loved.

Someone who gets us and gives to us, who wants to be near us in body and thought, to hear our voice the last sound at night, to say our name first thing in the morning , to share our vision and argue about what that might be. To hold our hand when we worry, cool our head when we fever, weep with us over our failures, and admonish us when we step out of line.

It’s because we are loved – because YOU are loved, that I want to say to you: The path has few markers we can see, the cheers never last until dawn, the shelf on which the trophy sits gets dusty faster than we can earn another. None of that matters as much as that you are here in the world. And that someone loves you.

When you fear the ache, when you despise the dark hole, when doubt makes you nauseous, when you believe that one more moment is unbearable, reach out. The despair is temporary. The flesh burn heals. The tumult in your soul calms. Call someone and talk. Call me and I’ll listen. Put out your hand, we’ll grab hold and not let go.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same.

Except one of those people loves you. Do not forget nor forsake the one who loves you. For if that momentary relief by rope or pill or bullet or knife removes the pain from your heart, it empties the pain into the one who loves you. And it stays forever in their marrow, as long as they live. Their tears never dry, they wonder always if they were the reason, they search every frontier trying to find the explanation. Trying to bring you back. Trying to remind you that they miss you and need you.

We are all saddened and shocked by the suicides last week of two remarkably talented and admired superstars. Heroes who brought us the world and brought the world to our door. As much as we, their fans and supporters, miss them and wonder what crucial need we didn’t fill on their behalf, it is the two young daughters left behind who will bear the weight of their absences.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. But those young girls are unique and different. They were your point one percent. I wish you’d lingered over their pictures one millisecond longer because I bet you would have reconsidered your actions. I bet you would still be here. Please do not let your permanent solution be their permanent grief.

There but for fortune, may go you or I.

 

The title words Go You or I are borrowed from the song There But for Fortune written by Phil Ochs in 1964. He was a brilliant and sensitive man who suffered from mental instability and succumbed to his despair by committing suicide in 1976. Before that, Phil Ochs left a legacy of hundreds of songs about the many social and political issues that brought him to grief. His work has been sung by dozens of famous recording artists and is on the lips of the millions of us who remember him and hope he knows we still praise the man who helped make us aware of the rest of the world.

 

Weeping Nude, 1914, by Edvard Munch

 

 

 

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Open Heart

End the argument with a slammed door, the house will crumble

Turn away with a shrug, we will speak again

Face disappointment with clenched fists, the fury will resume

Share thoughts with open palms, we will be friends again

Stitch a broken heart with regret, the wound will fester

Mend it with self-examination, we will love again

Because

Our wedding certificate was sealed with fading ink

But our hearts beat like the first time we saw each other

Our journey canted through unknown territories

Though we planned on traveling together always

We spoke in rage, acted from frustration, stomped with fear

Please meet me for coffee, I want to give it another chance

I know your name as it is also mine

 

Just a thought 29

 

Painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

 

Balm

 

Balm is not love nor even understanding. Love is an act in which we choose to engage. Understanding is the obligation of being human. Balm is inclusion. Inclusion is the soothing peace from which we all benefit, one hand extended to another, all hands linked, around the world, around the world and back again.

Around the world into the future.

 

 

Just a thought 18

 

 

 

Painting detail, Hands of God and Adam from Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

 

U is for The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is considered the Czech writer’s masterpiece. He is regarded as one of the world’s most important authors, having won numerous awards, commendations, international acclaim, and often short listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Being is one of the most unusual novels I’ve ever read. In fact, I couldn’t get through it the first two times I tried, so you’d be right if you’re questioning whether this is actually my favorite U book. I’m glad I finally completed it but it was a challenge from beginning to end.

I don’t think it’s possible to read Being without knowing something of the background of Kundera’s life and the history of Czechoslovakia. Kundera was born in Brno in 1929 and lived much of his adult life in Prague. The book reflects some of the events of his life. In fact, all of his books except for the very last describe life in Czechoslovakia. I’m no expert on this history, and what I do know I gleaned from the Internet and a bit of awareness of world issues as they happened.

Kundera’s first political association was with the Communist party but he eventually gave it up in favor of championing human rights, Czech political freedom, and support of the arts. He was one of many intellectuals who participated in the Prague Spring in 1968 in opposition to the Soviet invasion and takeover of his country. They banned his books. They reduced many of the intelligentsia and artistic community to second class citizenry and encouraged them to leave the country. Kundera and his wife emigrated to France where he taught at university, continued to write, and eventually became a French citizen. All of this is loosely exposed in Being, especially in the character of Tomas, Kundera’s alter ego.

The book begins with a lengthy discussion of human existence as a challenge between positive lightness, without emotional burden, and negative heaviness, requiring eternal return. Since we only get one life, we have no basis for comparison to determine which quality reflects life more accurately.* Many people take refuge in the aesthetic kitsch of religion or other distracting and sentimental activities to escape from Soviet oppression, a situation the author found deplorable and expressed within the viewpoints of characters. Kundera’s question about lightness versus heaviness is at the heart of living under a totalitarian government that destroyed the very nature of his country. Were I to be asked, I find the novel loaded with author intrusion, an absolute no-no according to modern writing standards (and many readers’ tastes.)

Ordinary writing rules don’t count under such circumstances. Throughout the book, philosophical arguments take more space than the activities of the characters. Most of the action revolves around their sexual relationships and betrayals, a kind of carousel of bed hopping, party attendance, and café sitting. Kundera devotes pages to definitions of words that later impact the characters. Words like “woman,” “cemetery,” and “the beauty of New York” create an internal dictionary of important ideas. Yeah, let’s you or I try that tactic in our novels and see how well it’s accepted by editors or readers.

Tomas, the primary character, is a brilliant surgeon who questions the quality and meaning of his life. He engages in an astonishing number of throwaway sexual liaisons, even while claiming to love only his wife, Tereza. At first a waitress escaping her vulgar mother, Tereza becomes a capable photo-journalist. She is always emotionally dependent on Tomas to the point that she is sickened and feels betrayed by his sexual exploits.

Tomas’ most important other sexual partner is Sabina, a talented painter and free spirit who even wins over Tereza. Sabina stays true to her values and eventually settles in America where she disavows her homeland and her past. The final significant character is Franz who becomes Sabina’s other lover. Franz lives a tragic life and dies abroad though he is essentially a kind person who recognizes his mistakes.

All four characters flee Czechoslovakia, though Tomas and Teresa return. Their lives take a difficult turn under the Communist occupation which demands slavish obeisance to party lines. They are forced to give up their previous professional identities. Their skills are wasted doing menial jobs, yet they accept this reduction in their status.

My most favorite character (actually, the only character I like) is the smiling dog, Kerenin. Tereza walks Kerenin every day to get a bun which he carries home in his mouth and does not eat until he roughhouses with Tomas. Though we know long before the end of the book that Tomas and Tereza die together in a car accident, for which no details are provided, it is Kerenin’s illness, death, and funeral that take up the final passages of the book. Other than anger at the heartlessness of the Soviet regime, only this section made me feel an emotional response to anything in the story.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a serious and important work for its depiction of the conflict of loyalty when one’s beloved country is invaded by an oppressive regime. It portrays the ways in which people tolerate and submit or flee and survive. Or rebel, as the author did. It doesn’t let you forget you’re reading a book the Communists hated. This is the distracting weight of the book for me, and it created a cleft between me and attachment to the story. As writers, we’ve learned that we must know the rules before we break them, and we better not break them unless we know how to do it so the entire story doesn’t shatter. Kundera knows how. I didn’t love this book but I will never forget it.

If you’ve read this book or any of his other works, I’d love to know your impression.

 

*My explanation of the basic conundrum of the book is poorly described here, but Kundera gives it plenty of space and makes it comprehensible.

I look forward to learning about your favorite U fiction books.

 

One other book that was a serious contender for U:

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Harper Perennial

H is for The History of Love

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The History of Love begins with an obituary and ends with the same – not a propitious beginning for a novel unless it is written by Nicole Krauss. Fortunately for readers, this book is. It contains a book within the book, one that is published under a thief’s name, and a view about love so enduring that no other person can take the place of the beloved. It is also about a search for a child, a child’s search for identity, and the true authorship of books.

This book won my heart as a reader but also as a writer. The first time I read it was pure pleasure as I became immersed in the story, eager to find out the ending but reveling in every phrase written, every image suggested, every new twist to a maze of a story. At the second reading, I paid attention to Krauss’ brilliant plot construction, character development, and psychological insight. She is a master writer, and for someone like me still learning to write, she is an entire writing class in a single volume.

The book is dense with imagery and poetic language, a gift for those who savor words and yearn to be kidnapped by story. It’s also complex and confusing, demanding sleuthing skills usually reserved for murder mysteries, and I found myself re-reading passages to reorient within the novel. The two main characters are each haunted people who brought me to tears and occasional laughter as I unraveled their stories. Leo Gursky, an old Polish Jew, now lives in New York. He is a Holocaust survivor without heirs or friends, afraid of dying alone and unrecognized. Once spying on the son he didn’t know about until, he is devastated to learn that he has died, a famous author who never knew his father. Leo has loved one woman in the world, and for her he wrote a book about love.

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer, bereft from the loss of her father to cancer, is convinced she is named after an Alma from an old story about undying love, her parents’ favorite. She wants to find a man who can love her grieving, widowed mother and give her a reason to live. Her younger brother, Bird, is strangely obsessed, believing he is one of the thirty-six lamed vovnik, the righteous people chosen by God for whom the world is made. Like many impassioned teenagers, Alma feels the world’s weight pressing upon her shoulders and struggles to balance the responsibilities of saving herself, her brother, and her mother.

Tangled in the journeys of these two is the history of the book Leo wrote decades earlier and another book that Alma’s mother is translating. Both of course are Leo’s The History of Love. Then there is Zvi Litvinoff, who has claimed and secretly published Leo’s book as his own work; Bruno, Leo’s one friend until he dies; and Isaac, the son Leo never met. A less polished writer might have written a muddle of a book out of such disparate parts, but Krauss penned a taut and multi-dimensional story.

The end is somewhat ambivalent, readers debating exactly what has happened, a bit of magical realism claiming its part of the story. What is understood is that love is all consuming and eternal, that sometimes the obvious facts don’t add up until you find all the other facts, and that no matter who writes a book, love endures and makes all things possible. Krauss has conveyed intuition about writing, love, relationships, and identity in a story with an apt title.

My favorite line from the book is this: Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. Who of us does not want to be so consumed by love that it spins our world and lets us breathe?

It’s a book I’ve kept and one I’ll read again, not to discover more of the writer’s technique but for the pure pleasure of enjoying a story well told. And that is what a good book should be.

The History of Love won the 2008 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing for fiction.

 

Other books that were serious contenders for H:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Harry Potter (entire series) by J.K. Rowling

Hawaii by James Michener

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus

The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

 

I look forward to learning about your favorite H fiction books.

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and W.W. Norton & Company

Tramp with Me the Prairie

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Tramp with me the prairie, shaft and grain

We’ll mow down the swat-knee grass

Share stalks of brittle wheat between us

Lips kiss, remind our hearts to beat again

 

Ford with me the river, pool and cascade

We’ll slosh through opaline ripples

Spray unfiltered water along our thighs

Hips touch, we slide and shiver, gasp for air

 

Climb with me the mountain, cliff and gorge

We’ll bushwhack a cloddy trail

Break live oak limbs that scratch our arms

Bloody wounds, mine into yours into mine

 

Hike with me the desert, sand and ravine

We’ll roam across arid gullies

Weave spiney ribbons around our heads

Cheeks sore reddened with sun, by wind

 

Surf with me the ocean, froth and wave

We’ll float on currents far from shore

Bind seaweed between our damp wrists

Ride a waxing swell ashore on our backs

 

Quest with me new frontier, stars and moon

We’ll explore the trajectory of flight

Orbit bare into milieu of solar dust

Universe small for the breadth of our being

 

 

Prairie image courtesy goodfreephotos.com, public domain images

Plum Tree

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Once a plum tree in spring, roseate petals toed on bare limbs, opens to sun,

Moth limps wet from its brittle cocoon into moonlight and raw leaf excess,

Onion swells from its torn dry shell, each layer transparent, unfurling,

Pungent odor stinging nose, swelling eyes, slimy sap burning cuts on flesh

 

Once a chick pecks sharp at marquise shell, totters hungry in noon warmth,

Trout slurps surface of jadeite pond, then glides through secret current,

Silent rainbow glitters after storm, melted gem colors, netted by clouds

Elusive, moves away from capture, away from certainty, to somber dark

 

Once evening’s sultry wind, morning’s dewy breath, vague languor

Honey from the hive, dripping sweet and gravid, orange, sage, tupelo,

Sting of the bee, startled, angry, defensive, only a brief defense,

Threat of more, to frighten, to ache, to paralyze, enough to kill

 

Once risen lovers, heated hearts, desperate for passion, fight and dance

Surety of souls meant to find each other, anywhere, everywhere, forever

Wisdom of warriors, aged, battered, gasping, marching on one leg, you and

I, winter now, crusted tears, tenuous, plum petals fallen from our fingers

 

In honor of National Poetry Month

Plum Tree image courtesy publicdomain.com