She Like Me

  

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves –  Anna Quindlen

Over jack fruit tacos, fresh chips and salsa and pumpkin bisque, she repeats the urgency to me. “At my age, I feel I should be on some path. I thought I had one, but now I don’t know what to do.”

She is 20. Her eyes glimmer the sea’s green under the sun.

“Maybe you’re already on your path,” I offer. “Searching and yearning is a path you return to periodically throughout your life, I suspect, judging from my own. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

She dips a chip, swivels and scoops the salsa to her mouth, chewing and thinking.

“No one gets how interesting it is that the same Aussie passes by the same spot outside the store each time I work.” 

She’s off on a new topic, obviously. 

“Or that the old dude with the baggy pants and dead cigar, who sits on the bench watching people go by is not creepy, just lonely. No one finds interesting the same things I do. No one even notices the same things I do. They just look at me blankly, like ‘I don’t get it.'”

Maybe she is not onto another topic after all, I think, and say to her, “You have the eyes and notice of a writer. Perhaps you should write.”

I smile inside at the thought–of her writing, of her at 20, and of her as my daughter. Her terrible beauty in striving splashes coolly recollected imagery over me of the shadow passion of a younger woman, far less stunning but more deeply driven. I too wanted to know my path back then, a college student looking for purpose and love and hating both, the need for either. I too was unable to see the road under my feet for my eyes focused farther down the way.

I mindlessly bring a chip to my lips and the crunching disrupts my musing. Watching her animated face, her lively expression full of open mouth laughter and wide eyed indignity at the passing observations, wishes and gripes she tosses out over half eaten tacos, I marvel at this bundle of gesticulations and well-spun tales of friends becoming strangers and strangers turned friends, this woman of my making with well-chosen words to help me see.

I see me and not me in her at 20. I only hope I was as engaging and fascinating a lunch date as she.

 

A Cello Rests

 
 

A cello rests in a room, its neck snugged to the corner, 

nearly facing the wall in neglect as if ashamed, 

calumny’s dust. 

Never her fault, I never loved enough, not until late, too late.

I played for spans.

A public school music teacher examining my third grade hands declared, 

“You have long fingers; you’ll play the cello.”

And pronouncement became performance.

I practiced and played: solo, ensemble and orchestra.

Competitions endured at the lust of a failed cello teacher and complicit parents

yielded no more than a B plus plus, merely a red ribbon.

But I scored Romberg’s cello sonata into my fingers for life.

And the taste, a hint of burning desire–first conquest, then mastery.

Until the mid-70s teen culture enwrapped me in smokey rock concerts and pubs,

boys and weed.

And the cello lay low in my childhood home ’til California stole me.

She plays me time to time, decade to decade since then,

testing my resolve and desire, the want-it factor.

She breaks my every attempt, every dream of recapture,

having long ago mastered me.

 

credit: clker.com

A Sudden Slant of Cynicism

  
“We toggle the gas pedal of politics between zealotry and apathy,” she complained. “One day we parade in protest for rights, wrongs and indifferences of some group, some perp, some activist, some governmental faction that failed or should not even exist, and the next day we go home and order up Chinese, bitching about how long the delivery service takes to go two city blocks.”

Her dilated pupils betrayed the calm cynical shellac of her words.

I wanted to reply with something equally poised and stunning, but my mind was stuck on crystals. Sometimes I get like that, in a mental tic. I read that quote by Stendhal earlier. 

What did Stendhal know about the process of crystallization, of solutes and nuclei, when he  teased out the strands of love, a taxonomy of four–the usual suspects like passion, ego, appearance, and lust? Something like that.

“I call ‘crystallization’ that action of the mind that discovers fresh perfections in its beloved at every turn of events.”

Delusion. 

We submerge others in the playground of our projections, our imagined lovelies that just get lovelier–because we want it so.

Objectification.

Sylvia Plath wrote plainer (“I think I made you up inside my head”).

“I believe you,” I replied to fill the lull of exhaustion her statement left. “So what are we going to do to change the world? Order lunch?” 

I chuckled.

She stared through me, and my thoughts squinted, wondering what lay behind me.
 

credit: https://marlonjbradley.files.wordpress.com

Luck of the Mistress – Nelly Ternan

IMG_0373
credit: biography.com

“These things cannot be written with a quiet hand or dry eyes.” Nelly Ternan

Sometimes it pays to be the mistress, especially to someone famous. Though the movie is a couple years old now and the biography much older, the Nelly Ternan story is a prime example of the sometimes advantageous position of the mistress–or so it would seem. In reading on the web, the facts vary slightly but all agree that she moved from actress to mistress to the rest of her life and onto fame and history without so much as a hitch. Of course there is so much to flesh out of these bare facts of Ellen Lawless “Nelly” Ternan, Charles Dickens’ mistress. If there is punishment, divine or otherwise, meted out for playing the role of mistress, this one seems to have gone unpunished.

According to Claire Tomalin’s biography, Ternan is born to a family of actors who tour the country even after the father dies in an insane asylum. One day Ternan, later acting in a burlesque show, is spotted by Dickens who casts her and her sister in his production of The Frozen Deep. Dickens, then 45 and married with 9 children (later 10), falls for the 18 year old Nelly, and they end up having a 13 year affair–though biographers differ on the nature of the relationship as Dickens himself took great pains to keep the circumstances of his estranged wife and his contacts with Ternan Victorian scandal proof secret–yielding one still born child from Dickens, who later dies, leaving his mistress money in his will. Ternan then moves on to marry a clergyman ten years her junior, with whom she has two children before he dies and she goes on to join the anti-suffrage movement. She dies of cancer at 75 years old. In 1913, that’s a pretty good long time. Much later, in 2013, a movie about her, The Invisible Woman, airs detailing her affair with Dickens, based on Claire Tomalin’s biography.

She lived 75 years, got married, had children and a long term love affair with a famous author that yielded her money and fame as long lasting if not as ubiquitous as Dickens’. She even got to campaign for her own political beliefs in her retirement. What a great story of American come uppance by being in the right place at the right time. The facts tell the story of a game with the score: Nelly 1, wife Catherine Dickens 0. Mrs. Dickens does not get her own write up and movie. No, her story is told through Dickens’ viewpoint. She goes down as the fat, grumpy woman with whom Dickens had 10 kids and then became dissatisfied for her lack of “ardor,” which is how he characterized his failing marriage at the time of meeting 18 year old Nelly.

Fame, fortune and history are random that way. Nelly’s story seems to reinforce that idea. Although, who can read between the mere hollow facts to see the story beyond the margins of the biography: the strife of being a young mistress to a much older demanding man of fame, his stress and the risk of both their reputations, or even the probable contentment of Mrs. Dickens being set up in her own apartment away from her dissatisfied husband who impregnated her ten times and left her to raise kids who likewise suffered the mortification of this hardly contained, much as Dickens tried, affair. One can only imagine the story behind the story. Unfortunately, the love letters between Dickens and Ternan were destroyed. In those letters lies the real story, I would like to believe, which is the story of passionate, irresistible love.

Cicisbeo’s Courtly Cell

credit: cinebazar.it

You live in a whisper, cicisbeo.
Your love is near and dearly so
but you are her shadow partner
a puppet and a beloved though
you will inherit nothing but her
gratitude and safely warm hello.

She more needs and adores you
than anyone else in her retinue
and so keeps you soft and close
inside cued cries and shrieks too
and you obey as you she chose
to wear on her arm like her jewel.

You have her secrets and her lies
told in an ear’s warm breath flies
from lips of painted hues so red
the color of her heart’s true sighs
that never you share in her bed
for she wears comfort at her side.

Are you her friend and lover too?
A scepter in her hand to rule you
are you satisfied with ether love?
Gather your pride in vain pursuit
and wear her need like the glove
of your cold killer hands so cruel.

She is dead to you now in mind
she, being blind to your design
Using another’s need as a pet
is the willful way of all her kind
and opposition none she’s met
with the force of a love sublime.

My mistress has met her a match
in circles of a scheme unhatched
come back to bite a cold remorse
in blue eyes of the candle’s catch
sweet and sorrowful loves endorse
the knife in you, the itch scratched.

For Passion’s Sake Separating Self from the Other–Esther Perel on “Mating in Captivity”

Esther Perel, rooting out the cause of sexual boredom in marrieds in her essay entitled “Mating in Captivity”(http://www.powells.com/essays/perel.html) directs married couples to rebel, to actively challenge fear in order to balance desire against love and thus recharge their sex lives. She challenges each to see the “other” in their partners.

She begins her article defining the problem, “the dilemmas of desire”, long term married couples experience, when passion, and thus sex, is murdered by the inherent contradictory needs and conceptions of love versus desire. She says, “couples around the world are chasing the desire dragon” trying to keep desire alive, which takes reconciling the need for security and familiarity with the need for newness and separateness. She affirms, “To sustain desire toward the other, there must be an element of separateness,” a creation of space that requires each of the couple to let go of, or at least suspend, fear. It takes foregoing the security of familiarity and sameness and the conception of love as sweetness and intimacy, and allowing the “mystery” in the other to flourish by seeing his or her otherness. The recognition and appreciation of otherness incites eroticism. That takes distance–scary.

Most people’s conceptions about love are based on “reciprocity” while desire is more “selfish”, and passion, in long term marriage, is traded for security, leading to boredom, both of which–passion and security–Perel says, are illusions. Of course, she advocates in the end devoted time for sex, even planned, and invites fantasy and rebellion as a mindset for charging up the mental loins. She ends with a cleverly conceived concluding conception: “Like the child who jumps off a mother’s comfortable lap, running off to discover and explore, before returning to the safety of home base, we adults continuously seek to balance our contradictory needs for connection and freedom, comfort and fear, the grown-up version of hide and seek.”

The draw of this essay is not so much the novelty of the information or advocacy to give up the illusion of the oneness of couples and to be brave enough to realize that we are all essentially, in the words of Brian Doyle in “Joyas Voladares”, “alone in the house of the heart”, but in the writing of the essay. She has an ease in her prose that comforts the reader, creating lovely imagistic analogies to convey the essence of her message, one like her last simile of the child running from the mother’s lap. She uses discreet bits of well-turned phrases to illuminate the more poignant points. I especially enjoyed this passage:

These elements we seek, the ones that combined, light the flame of eroticism, exist and thrive in a space I think of as otherness. The best intimacy is the one that respects this otherness. Individuality and difference are accentuated, and you actually see the other person as a separate being. As expressed by the great narrator, Proust, ‘The true voyage of discovery is not about discovering new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.’ In those moments we stand on opposite ends of this space we see each other with new eyes. Our separateness is what allows for risk, vulnerability, and erotic charge of the unknown.

Standing on opposite ends of a space and “the erotic charge of the unknown” are two notions and phrasing that made me sigh in contentment upon concluding this piece. She takes what could be cliche’d psychological dicta–give each other space–and infuses a phenomenological dimension to the psychological.

The general patterns of behavior are underscored in this essay–we tend to meld into and conflate our spouses with ourselves–but individual perception is put in relief, something I call the gaze, in a more general and not historical-theoretical context.

Walking through daily life, people depend upon their anonymity and interior-absorbed space. They walk through streets in the anonymity of a crowd, invisible, thinking of where they have to go and what they have to do. It is only when someone recognizes the walker/thinker and calls her name or looks in her eyes with an i-know-you look that the comfort of the invisible world of thought and “self” is shattered. The reverie is interrupted and the self is pulled from her space into the world of another, into the community.

We forget about this general condition and comfort of lone self when we dive into marriage or any relationship to escape what some mistake for loneliness, most probably due to the fear of that conception–loneliness–or an angst about one’s own self worth. Am I doomed to be trapped in my mind, with my thoughts? Me? To zoom in, when the lover is in the gaze of her other, this separateness is capitalized. It is a nanosecond recognition that she is an object–of desire–a body, a repository of fantasy and fluid, a separateness, as Perel serenely states. She is seen. Maybe not as she “truly” is but as a strangeness that comes from not being a part of the self, like seeing one’s hand floating in space, disconnected from its arm. That space allows for possibility–what can I do to or with this other?–because this other is not me, doesn’t think like me, or fear like me. What does she want/like? The gaze turns the trite plea for space, I just need some space, to the reality: we are each alone in this world, and that is fucking hot!