I’ll be your mirror

I think a lot about projection and pedestals, and devotion vs delusion. In a culture of fanaticism and glorification, I think it’s crucial to critically assess these things as much as possible, for they are often habits we’ve unwittingly learned: from popular media, from books and art and film and songs. Today we are living in a post-Romanticism period, our society littered with leftover remnants of the most beautiful (and unrealistic) cultural movement in history. I think a lot about how Romanticism still informs our wider understanding and perception of romantic love: obsessive and tragic attachment is a distinctive feature of the movement and, in some of the most significant works (think The Sorrows of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Manfred), nine times out of ten, someone (often our brooding hero, expiring for love, or the object of their unrequited or unfulfilled desire) dies.

I will probably write a more in-depth post at some point about all of this, but needless to say, I try to be super conscious of the shit I project onto others through our zeitgeist’s subconscious lens of ‘post-Romanticism’ — feeling in extremes, excessive sentimentalism, idealising and romanticising unhealthy or abusive behaviours, suicidal ideation, placing unfair and unattainable expectations onto others in the name of love… We are all victims of past painters and poets.

“The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. […] A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.”

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carlson McCullers

Is attraction (and repellence for that matter) ever anything more than projection on some level? I’m convinced the more damaged you are, the more prone you are to perceiving individuals through a prism of your own unmet needs — whether that leads to idealisation or devaluation or both.

If everyone you meet is a mirror, how can you begin to discern the illusion you’ve created from the reality of who they actually are?

Stay critical,

xo, c

Miracles

Carl Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan, wrote the following piece in 2003 about her husband’s death. I think about it a lot.

What’s more beautiful than the (im)probability of existence? The chance of any one of us existing at all is approx 1 in 10^2,685,000. To clarify, that second number is a 10 followed by almost 2.7 million zeros.

Now double that number for every person you love. For every chance encounter, for every miraculous bond and companionship that enriches our time on this planet, that makes us forget the ultimate pointlessness of it all — of life — all the inertia and inevitably of inhabiting a giant rock hurtling towards oblivion. Borne of stardust and supernovas and 4 billion years of single-cell survival… To not only co-exist but to find each other in the cosmos, at this time and place, in spite of it all — we are so lucky! I am so grateful for the people I love, the people I have loved – without motive, without agenda (without, admittedly, sometimes, the slightest bit of self-composure). I am grateful that somehow — inexplicably, implausibly, incredibly — the universe found a way.

Maybe we came from the same star a billion years ago.

Sometimes, one thanks some people for merely existing at the same time as we do.

I know I do.

“To love someone is firstly to confess: I am prepared to be devastated by you.”

Each time I am deeply, profoundly hurt there is an overwhelming, dread-filled sense of inevitability and resignation that feels something like: “Oh god, this is it. This is the one that’ll do it. This is the one that’ll finally break me. My heart just can’t take it again.” Each time I sit, crushed, inconsolable, waiting for the world to end — and each time it begins again in the morning. My fragile, bruised heart: a fox fleeing bloodhounds – stricken but stoic – carries on beating; blood keeps pumping; lungs keep inhaling, keep exhaling; tear ducts (which I am certain have well exhausted their function by now) spill anew once more. Ups and downs. Loss and adjustment. And yet, I – somehow – despite it all – do not, will not – lose the fundamental trust and faith I feel towards humans and nature and friendship and joy and love. To possess the capacity to love another person – without judgement, without agenda – is a gift. To own the capacity to feel deeply is a gift. Connectedness to another – passing or permanent – is a gift. Sometimes people shine their light on you only briefly: entering your life unannounced and unexpected, inspiring and enriching and emboldening your very soul, and then they are gone, it seems, as soon as they appear, vacating the home they made in your heart. It’s brutal, it’s unfair, but I refuse to let grief take the shape of anger; to demonise or vilify. I will cherish the memories and the lessons and the bond – the capacity to find fulfilment and joy and understanding and commonality in another human. To be able to love and love unconditionally – I am so, so lucky.

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it” David Foster-Wallace wrote once. To feel deep pain is to feel deep love – absence always denotes a presence. All I strive for anymore is the grace to accept and to let go – with dignity, with decorum – everything which does not (will not, can not) whole-heartedly choose me back.

(‘White Nights’ by Dostoevsky, p. 35)

If you love someone let them go: some thoughts on Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening has been heralded as a pioneering feminist novel since its publication in 1899. Set in the oppressive environment of the postbellum American South, the plot centres around Edna Pontellier (a respectable young mother and wife) and her struggle to achieve sexual and personal emancipation. Edna is a brilliantly written character, joining the likes of Jane Eyre amongst the heroines of protofeminism. Breaking through the passive role appointed to her by society, Edna not only acknowledges her dreams and desires but also has the strength and courage to act on them. It is, in its most simple form, the story of a woman discovering her own identity independent of her husband and children. It’s also a heart wrenching love story, or almost-love story.

Enter Robert Lebrun.

After a painstaking year of friendship and building sexual tension, Robert and Edna confess their love for each other near the end of the novel. It’s dramatic and passionate and primes the reader for the satisfying resolution of a union. Edna sits on Robert’s porch alone, restless, and decides: to hell with the consequences, she will finally spend the night with him and finally, finally embark on the affair they have both secretly longed for, for so long. She marches into the house ‘with the intoxication of expectancy’ and then—

She finds him gone. The house is empty. Nothing but an eight word note remains: “I love you. Goodbye — because I love you.” (p. 124)

This is so shocking because it occurs at the climax of the novel — right at the moment when Edna and Robert’s romance comes the closest to fulfilment and fruition. The reader feels cheated, the happy ending is snatched away. But why? Initially, I blamed Robert, obviously, him being a man and all. Men! And their flighty non-committal bullshit! And then, oh god, I realised that during the exchange between the two of them confessing their mutual romantic feelings, Edna pretty much tells him flat out that she will never marry him: “I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours.’ I should laugh at you both.” (p.119) Edna admits here that even if Robert is the love of her life, she will never marry him because she does not want to be tied down; she wants to remain a free spirit, untethered by expectations or feelings both from and towards a man. Robert’s decision to leave shortly after hearing this is because he knows that he will never have Edna, at least not in the way he really wants — not only because of societal expectations (her being a married woman and mother), but also because she will never give herself fully (“Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself (…) for anyone.”) (p.53).

Edna will never belong to anyone other than herself. Robert ultimately knows this, I think; knows that his dreams of marriage and a family would only serve to limit and restrict her independence, her growing interests, passions, and desires to explore and experience and break free from oppressive social constraints. He can’t bring himself to dim or deaden her dreams, or to deprive her of the kind of life she she wants, so he leaves. At the height of her self-actualisation, he leaves. He loves her in this moment—infinitely—for who she is, for who she wants to be; but he knows all too well: that by not wanting to be anyone’s anything, she will never be his, either.

Ugh. I love this book.