The Courage to Love Creatively

anais nin

I recently finished a novel in which the narrator noted several times that she loved her ex-husband more once they divorced than she did while they were married. She also checked herself, reflecting on how it’s easier to love when love is a concept instead of a daily reality. Or maybe, she posited, space and distance is the place in which love is possible with some particular people. The novel, “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout, is not about divorce, or marriage, and so the narrator didn’t go much further with this thinking.

I have, though. Continue reading

My Love, Before I Knew Him

We had dinner last night with his best friend from childhood. These two grew up together in a small town, attended college together in Murfreesboro where they played in bands they say no one listened to, and they both remained in Nashville to work in the music business.

They share an inside language of family, music, friends, exes (girlfriends, band members), trips they’ve taken, dumb things they’ve done, gossip, gin and sometimes work.

This childhood friend’s wife is a photographer – quite exceptional with portraiture – and she pulled out some prints she’s made of the two of them, and others in their friend group, from seven or eight years back. This is before I knew him and his circle, when I was married to someone else.

I was afraid of what they might think if I did what I wanted to do, which was inspect and dissect every pixel of his portrait, so I said a polite, “Great photo!” or whatever, and left it at that. But it was beyond a great photo. This is what I saw:

I saw a classically handsome man of 35 or 36, with hyper-animated, expressive eyebrows, a half-smiling snarl in one corner of his mouth, subtly but suggestively jutting hip, black suit. If his friends read this, they’ll tease him, but he looked to me like a celebrity, like if I had seen him out somewhere at that period of my life, I would have intentionally ignored him so I didn’t look like I was staring.

In that photograph, I saw a man a few years younger, cockier, and perhaps even freer than he is now. I saw a man who had already known for a long time how beautiful and sensitive Chris Bell’s music is, who had already read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” 900 times, and who had given copies of that novel and “I Am The Cosmos” to plenty of other creative, sensitive brunettes.

Knowing someone intimately does not necessarily mean you know the details of their life before you were in it. Sometimes those things reveal themselves in conversations with old friends, in photographs, in the context of someone else’s circumstances, or seemingly from nowhere but fate.

Sometimes mystery is best.

I looked at that photograph of him for but a few seconds, felt jealous that I wasn’t in it, then almost as quickly felt the sort of crush I’d felt when we met, when every little thing about him was new.

He will always have years that are not mine, things about him I don’t know. That is wildly sexy, and I hope someone has taken photographs of those moments he was awesome, long before he met me.

A Prayer for Martyrs

Sometimes we’re living in a space between unhappy and fulfilled, and that space can be worse than miserable.

Nothing is what you really want. And nothing is so bad that you feel justified in seeking or accepting help. It’s an insincere space because you’re not living your life the way you’d wish to live it.

For many loyal, giving, and dedicated parents and professionals I know, these periods of inauthenticity can overtake us when we prioritize others’ needs (or perceived needs) over our own emotional, spiritual, creative – or whatever fundamental needs – are at our core.

Life is full of compromises based on open communication and mutual respect. That’s a good thing.

What isn’t: a willful denial of one’s own happiness on the notion that someone else’s is more important. Especially – especially – when your assumptions about what would make others happy are wrong. (What if they just want you to be happy and you’re denying them that, ironically in the interest of their happiness? I have friends whose parents waited until they were grown before they got divorced. This paradox is the reason why, and it wasn’t good for anyone in the family, including the kids. Similarly I’ve worked with people who worked all hours of day and night. They did this for their teammates, but their teammates resented their workaholism because it made them feel less dedicated.)

A trite but helpful metaphor someone shared with me when I said my own happiness would have to wait because my daughter’s was more important: When the cabin pressure drops, the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to assist someone else. Why? Because you can’t adequately assist another person if you yourself are in need of assistance.

Think about the people who are the most sincerely generous – i.e. generous without strings attached – in your life. I bet they are the most personally fulfilled. It’s nice to think their lives are whole because they are giving. But I have to admit that in my own life, anyway, it has been the inverse.

A hope for the selfless and yet unfulfilled people I love is that they come to know this: Once we stop living for other people, we begin to truly love them.

It’s been a tough lesson for me to learn, but it’s been the most important.

The vanity of crushes

A friend of mine found himself instantly and achingly attracted to a woman he met at a business mixer. She was an accomplished young executive, like himself. An extrovert who never met a stranger, like himself. Interested in politics, well versed in novels and music, beautiful and confident to a point bordering on cockiness. Like himself.

The attraction horrified him, especially once he realized it was returned.

She was single. He was married.

Continue reading

A Southern great-grandmother: “If they were gay and whatever, so what. She was one of us.”

I’ve asked my grandmother several times over the years to tell me about Maude Pick, her aunt Pearl’s lifelong companion and housemate.

Maybe because the issue has been discussed so persistently lately on the cable news networks she watches between Andy Griffith reruns from her easy chair on her lake house porch, but this Easter weekend – following the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments on the Defense Of Marriage Act – she seemed more relaxed when talking about the relationship between Pearl and “Pick” (as Maude was known).

The video here was shot by my daughter on that lakeside porch in teeny Dadeville, Alabama. My mom and I are in a few shots, as is my parents’ golden retriever. It’s a little grainy and jumpy, and I wish I had photos of Pearl and Pick, but I love this all the same. Regardless of what you think about this issue, I hope it inspires you to ask your grandparents interesting questions, and to record their responses.

Life is short. Love is always.

Butterflies: A short pictorial on love and biology

Have you ever seen a group of butterflies coalescing en masse, like this?
butterflycluster

Ok, that’s an extreme example, taken – oddly enough – from an NPR story about Vladimir Nabokov. You know him as the author of “Lolita”, but he was also a renowned student of the butterfly.

Many of you, I suspect, are renowned students of the butterfly as well. Continue reading

The Top Seven Rainbow Bright Moments of 2012

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I’ve decided 2012 is the Year of the Rainbow.

For my friends and me, some of the happiest moments have come at the tail end of some deluges, both figuratively and literally.

Here are the top seven. …

Continue reading