This week’s surreal nude could have been inspired by Salvador Dali. It probably wasn’t, but it could have been.
Hat Tip to TJ for finding it.
It interests me how people can leave an aftertaste of themselves. For instance, I spent the evening chatting online with TJ, and — for perhaps the hundreth time — I’ve noticed that she leaves me feeling clean, bouyant, optimistic. Yet, those feelings can be in sharp contrast to what certain other people leave me with. Rush Limbaugh might be the worse for that. Almost every time I listen to him — even for just a quarter hour — I come away feeling a bit dirty or in need of a shower. Does anyone else notice these things? Or am I once again being delusional?
Some things are easy for me to remember, but my birthday is not one of them. Fortunately, my mother always remembers, and she calls every January 10th to wish me a happy birthday. Usually, that’s how I learn about it. But this year is different.
For once, I’m well ahead of the curve. And for some reason, I’m feeling proud of myself that no one must tell me it’s my birthday this year. I feel as if I’ve accomplished something. But why did I remember it this year?
I’m pretty certain the reason is TJ. She reminded me a few days ago that my birthday was coming. She seemed to feel it was important, and so I began to feel it was important. For the first time in memory, I’ve been looking forward to my birthday. Which brings me to the point: This isn’t the only time in my life I’ve noticed a thing suddenly take on a new meaning merely because that’s the meaning someone I’m in love with gives to it.
For instance, a very dramatic change of sentiment overcame me many years ago when I was deeply in love with my ex-secretary. At the time, I was quite enthusiastic about politics and in the habit of often commenting to my secretary on the subject. Yet, one day, Tara told me in a simple but politely emphatic way that politics was of no importance to her and bored her silly.
The shift was abrupt, almost like an epiphany. I quite suddenly saw how politics was little more than an entertainment for me and not much of a real or serious interest at all. Yet, until that moment’s insight I had been wrapped up each day in politics — attached to politics, a Buddhist might say. More precisely, I had until that moment the dogmatic, loud, and false passion for politics you see so often in people who think ideologically rather than realistically. All those sentiments dropped from me within a minute or so of Tara’s declaration.
The change was not superficial. For several years afterwards, I seldom thought about or discussed politics. When I eventually took up the subject again, it was in a different spirit.
In a more minor way, TJ’s interest in my birthday seems to have caused my interest in it this year. Moreover, I can think of other times in my life when I’ve viewed the world through a lover’s eyes and have been changed by what I’ve seen. Not just intellectually, but emotionally.
I think that last bit is important to understanding the phenomenon. Like nearly everyone, I have studied with teachers, read books, and so on that have changed me intellectually — changed my understanding of the world — and then perhaps eventually changed how I felt about the world. But what stands out to me about the experience I had with Tara, or to a much lesser extent the recent experience I had with TJ, is that in those cases both my understanding and my feelings have changed at the very same time — and changed quickly.
Are there other things that can bring about so much change in us so quickly? I am sure there are. The best art seems to do that for some of us. And the best science for others. And so forth. But I wonder if anything does it so surely as love?
At least, that’s how it seems to me. I strongly suspect, however, that I only imperfectly understand the phenomenon. There seems to be so much to it than I’ve been able to get at here.
Anais Nin somewhere says, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” I have often thought of her words when I’ve thought of how we can be changed in both our understanding and our feelings by seeing something through a lover’s eyes.
It is now a couple hours into the tenth of January, the day on which I was born into this word. And while this is officially my 52nd birthday, I believe in my life this world has been born many times — in both small and great ways — on those occasions when I have seen the world, not in my own habitual way, but fresh through the eyes of someone I’ve loved.
It seems to me photography is a deceptively difficult art to excel in.
Yet, it looks so simple to begin with; and besides, who hasn’t gotten lucky with photography by producing at some time a few good photos? I have not yet heard of anyone who created a genuinely good oil painting on their first try, but I know of several people who produced a genuinely good photo on their first try. Perhaps we should be thankful there are accessible arts like photography, since there seems to be a bit of the artist in each of us.
Yet, last night I myself was anything but thankful for the art of photography. In fact, I was very much in danger of being arrested by the Colorado Domestic Violence Protection Agency for the verbal abuse of an inoffensive art. Which is to say, I was attempting to take a really, really good photo while utterly and completely lacking the necessary skills to do so.
The inspiration for my attempt at photography was innocent enough. That morning, TJ had casually said to me, “You know, I don’t really have a good photo of you.”
Of course, TJ’s wishes command my heart, whether I want them to or not. So, all day long my heart moped as if it had witnessed a grave injustice done to her. By nightfall, there was nothing that could be done to restore peace to my heart but create a photo of myself for TJ.
The thing I have learned about the arts is I have an affinity for some of them and lack an affinity for others of them. I strongly suspect most of us are that way. Some of us seem born to feel a paintbrush work a canvas, while for others of us it’s to feel a song pass our lips, or to play a guitar, or to dance. Yet, in my own case, it is most certainly not to wield any device as complicated and intimidating as a camera. After last night, if I still owned a gun, I would not still own a functioning camera.
I hope you will not be too distraught to discover that I took well over 60 or 80 photos of myself last night before I somehow managed to get even just one image that rose to the sublime aesthetic qualities of a standard police mug shot. My index finger grew a hard callous from hitting the delete button, and a Navy recruiter somehow overheard my choice of swear words and dropped by to leave me with his business card. To put that last bit in context, I don’t usually swear for fear I will sound too much like one of today’s twelve year olds.
How do photographers like Robin, Stevo, Loren, and Marka manage to do it? Both my older brother and my friend Don are talented photographers, but not I. So I suppose I can console myself that, no matter how much talent and skill I myself lack, there are indeed people out there who can do wonders with the medium. Somehow that makes me feel a little better.
Of course, what makes me feel even better than that was TJ’s reaction to my photo today. Although she did not deny that my strenuous effort at self-portraiture bore an uncanny resemblance to high school yearbook art, she chose to be exceedingly gracious and thanked me twice over for my opus. At last, my heart feels at peace.
Sometimes I crack myself up. Moments ago, I woke up to the realization I just spent more than an hour this evening gazing at a casual photo TJ recently sent of herself. I remember running my cursor over the lines of her hair, thinking how I would sketch them, and feeling mild disappointment the photo doesn’t show enough detail in her face to be perfectly sketchable. But can that really have taken an hour? And how can a mere photo make one oblivious to the passing of time?
I have a hunch, though, that when we observe ourselves doing little things like becoming lost in a photo, we often learn more about our internal states than we do through introspection.
Introspection, in my experience is very tricky and frequently produces biased, vague, and inaccurate conclusions. Put a little differently, introspection seems much more likely to merely tell us what we think of ourselves than to tell us what we will actually do in a given set of circumstances. It does not seem to be entirely useless, but, for instance, I probably would never have guessed myself — through introspection alone — very likely to spend an hour gazing at a photo of TJ while daydreaming of sketching her. But that is precisely what I have just done.
For those and other reasons, I’m of the opinion that the best way to learn about ourselves is not through introspection, but through conscientious observation of what we actually do or don’t do in a given set of circumstances. That’s usually the best way to learn about others, and it also seems to be the best way to learn about ourselves.
Any way, those are just some preliminary thoughts on the subject. I’m not guaranteeing the accuracy of anything I’ve said here because I haven’t allowed myself time to mull it over before writing about it. I’d appreciate hearing your insights on this subject now.
In the night
After I came alone to Colorado,
I climbed to a high place in the wind
Where I was surprised
By the size of the moon.
Not sure why,
I stretched my arm out to her,
Who then seemed a foot beyond my hand,
And beyond any grasp of mine.
But her light,
Fell on my fingers like a grace given to me,
Who could neither earn nor deserve her grace.
I sometimes feel, love, you are like the moon
I have reached for when alone in the night
And have found her beyond what
I can deserve or earn,
And beyond any grasp of mine,
For your compassionate love has taken my hand
And, by some miraculous grace of your heart,
I no longer stand in the dark, alone in the wind.
“Do you want me or my body“, she asks,
Turning to you in the mist,
Where she’s both naked and obscured.
Yet it’s not so simple as that
You know how one moment in love
You feel so urgent for her
It parts the veil of your desires
And you see her.
And you know how one moment in love
You crave so much the pleasures of love
You want not her but the pleasures,
And the veil descends.
The mists, the mists are always swirling
When in love.
Now they gather to obscure,
Yet, now they part some to reveal.
No lasting love is ever pure,
Nor is true love always real.
I think that, in order to write a reasonably organized blog post, you must not only have an idea, but you must not have too many ideas at once.
That thought occurs to me this morning because I am having too many ideas. No sooner have I begun to explore one idea than another rushes up, clamoring for attention. I become distracted and start exploring the newcomer. Yet, just as quickly as before, another idea presents itself — and so on.
So why is this happening to me?
My day did not begin so complicated. I woke up, made coffee, and sat down at my computer as if it were any normal day. And, at first, it was indeed a normal day for nothing immediately came to me. I sipped my coffee and waited.
It was then I made my mistake. I got to thinking of TJ, of what a beautiful person she is, and of some of the things we’ve discussed. Just like that, the ideas began flooding in.
It seems my friend inspires me.
Yet, that’s not so uncommon, is it? Lovers often inspire us. Obviously, it can be one of the nicer benefits of being in love with someone who loves you. So I am wondering this morning whether you would be willing to share how one of your lovers has inspired you?
Your words traveled the net
And caressed me for hours that night,
Seeming like notes in some eternal song.
Seven hundred miles by map
From here to there,
Yet much less distance
Between you and me:
Your voice became mine,
And my voice yours.
We rode horses beneath a summer’s moon,
We let our eyes speak across candle fire,
In our imaginations.
We were so
Not much later, I saw
The real moon beyond my door
Shining like some timeless spirit
In the growing dawn.
It seems TJ and I have become interested in exploring this whole notion of romantic love together.
As you might suspect, it occasionally works like this: First, she has an extraordinary insight. Then, with impressive tact, she takes care to phrase the insight as a graceful, non-dogmatic question about herself or me.
Naturally, I then respond in the most sensitive and caring manner possible by reflexively kicking into my extremely annoying testosterone-driven Mr. Male “I will save you” role.
“Stand back, O Lady Love! There’s no need to worry about the saber tooth tiger over there! Why, I’ll just solve that little problem in a jiffy!”
Whereupon I proceed to do battle with the problem in the most alarmingly graceless manner, getting nearly eaten in the process, while TJ pretends admiration and struggles to keep a straight face.
Finally I settle down enough that we can discuss the matter as colleagues. And that’s when the real fun begins of having a friend like TJ — a friend who’s going through the same feelings as yourself — and who is, among other things, kind, honest and insightful.
Romantic love never lasts forever — except in the hopes and dreams of teenagers — and so someday the feelings TJ and I are experiencing for each other will wear off. I suspect if the two of us are both fortunate and wise, we will then become better friends for having gone through this thing together. I would like that to happen not because of my present feelings for her, but because she is a good person, and she will endure as a good person long after any romantic feelings have faded.
It seems to me romantic love is a bit like fire. If TJ and I are intentionally or unintentionally foolish in how we deal with our love, we will surely get burnt. But if we somehow manage to deal wisely with our love, it holds for us powers of light and warmth.
Now, there are at least two ways of looking at romantic love. You can look at the biology of it, which Helen Fisher is doing, or you can look at the philosophy of it, which I’ll touch on briefly here. But I should caution you: Those two ways of looking at romantic love do not entirely match up.
Philosophically, the core idea underlying romantic love is the notion the beloved is an unique individual who cannot be replaced by anyone else, and who is, or ought to be, loved for who they are as a person. For example: You don’t love your wife because she is your wife, you love her because she is herself. Put differently, there are no other TJs in this world — there is no one else exactly like her — and the art and discipline of loving her consists to some significant degree in supporting, cherishing, and affirming her as a person in her own right.
When the notion of romantic love arrived in Europe around, as I recall, 1200 A.D. it was revolutionary and subversive of the social order. Consequently, the Church condemned it. But it nevertheless survived, and I think that’s because — for all its flaws — it is indeed based on some profound truths about human nature.
Today, romantic love is no less subversive of the social order than it has always been. We in the West, however, have more or less surrendered to it, and our social order has to some great extent been changed to reflect that surrender. That’s less the case elsewhere. In India, for instance, the proto-fascist Hindu Nationalists periodically condemn romantic love, oppose such evidences of it as Valentine’s Day, and even burn down greeting card shops. They see it as subversive of the family and the social order. And, in a signifcant way, they are right. Romantic love asserts the value of the individual — the value of the beloved as an unique person — over and above the value of his or her role in society. Anytime you do that, you create the potential to subvert the social order.
That, in brief, is the philosophy of romantic love. How does it match up with the biology? Not very closely in some ways. I think the philosophy is more inspired by the biology than led by it. We know from Fisher and other scientists how the feelings or emotions of romantic love don’t last forever. But the philosophy, of course, is something that can be applied long after the feelings wear off. Nothing — no biology — prevents me from cherishing TJ as a person for the rest of my life.
Like most of us, I’ve been in love before and will be in love again. But no matter how many people I love in my life, there has never been — nor will there ever again be — another TJ. Like all of us, she’s an unique and special person. If I somehow manage to be wise in my love of her, then I will love her and not my feelings towards her. That, after all, is one of the more subtle implications of the philosophy of romantic love.
Like most of us, I’ve now and then had the peculiar experience of discovering I was loved by someone — not for who I am — but for who that person thought I should be.
It can be an interesting position to find yourself in. For one thing, you get to observe first hand how a person can have intense feelings towards you despite they have, in effect, mistaken you for someone else.
You are yourself, and yet perhaps they want you to be much more like their father than you could ever be while remaining true to your nature. Some times, they might even want you to be like Brad Pitt, or some other famous person. The fact you are not — fundamentally are not — the person they want you to be seems to have little or no effect on the intensity of their feelings for you.
In my life, I’ve been on both sides of that coin. For instance: There was a girl in high school I was immensely attracted to — not for who she was — but for who I thought she should be. Poor Janet wisely resisted all my efforts to turn her into an intellectual. Nevertheless, my feelings towards her were as intense as they were blind. I only stopped short of calling those feelings “love”. That is, I had the insight to realize I was only infatuated with her, but I lacked the deeper insight to grasp how little I understood her, how different she was from who I thought she was, and how foolish it was to try to change her to fit my mistaken image of her.
Lately, TJ and I have been exploring this issue together in our chats over the net. We’ve asked, “Are we in love with each other, or in love with our ideas of each other?” We’ve agreed the question is a good one, and that providing an honest answer to it is at least as important to us as making the best possible choice of which beers to drink.
Of course, the intensity of our feelings for each other are by no means a sure footed sign we love each other. Nor is the fact our feelings developed suddenly. And neither is the fact our feelings seem mutual. Those are signs TJ and I recognize cannot be relied on to accurately tell us whether we are in love with each other, or just in love with our ideas of each other. An infatuation with our ideas of each other could feel just as intense, develop just as suddenly, and be just as mutual.
What might be more telling is the fact that we’re not trying to change each other. It seems to me when people love their ideas of each other more than each other they almost always indulge themselves in trying to change the other person to fit their ideas. Yet, TJ and I haven’t attempted any such thing, and my intuition tells me it doesn’t seem likely we will. Of course, only time will tell whether my intuition is accurate.
By the way, I do not mean to imply here that any attempt to change another person bespeaks a lack of love. That is absurd. But there is a distinction between trying to change another person in a way that is in accord with their nature, and trying to change them in a way that is against or opposed to their nature. The former can be an affirmation of that person. The latter is always a denial of them.
Years ago, when I tried so hard to turn Janet into an intellectual, I was in effect trying to change her fundamental nature, because she simply wasn’t that kind of person. I wasn’t affirming her as a person, I was denying her as a person. Had I realized back then what I was doing, I would not have tried doing it. But I was blind to what I was doing because I was infatuated with my idea of Janet, rather than in love with the true her.
It can be an interesting question whether we love someone or merely love our idea of them. No doubt there is much more that could be said here about the differences between loving someone and loving an idea of them. But I’m pretty tired at the moment and not even coffee is working to keep me awake. So I’m going shut up now and turn the conversation over to you.
Readers who enjoyed this post or thought it was useful to them are invited to check out my other posts on the topics of love, romance, and relationships by clicking here to get to a list of them.
This post was updated on April 9, 2017 to improve the quality of the writing.
I met TJ a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, you meet someone who is impressed with you in the same way you are impressed with them. I reckon something like that has taken place between TJ and me. The two of us spent hours chatting over the net the other day, and for both of us it felt as if only a few minutes had passed.
She’s a beautiful person, and I have seen summer storms rise over the mountains slower than she and I have come together as friends. She’s got a pleasant sense of humor, a very good heart/mind, extraordinary kindness, and an astonishing tolerance of me.
Her only deeply serious flaw as a person is she doesn’t read my blog.
Naturally, there are challenges to deepening our friendship. By far the most important challenge is she’s thoroughly married. That rather effectively rules out romance. Which might or might not be tragic. I have a feeling if she weren’t already happily committed to a very good man, I would have a chance to become an extraordinarily lucky guy. Granted there’s a much better chance that a pixie is currently farting rainbows a few feet beyond my kitchen window, but any chance at all with TJ would make me insufferably happy.
Of course, my insufferable happiness wouldn’t last. Too soon, I’d feel obligated to change my ways in order to make the best possible life for her. I couldn’t be with TJ without wanting to do my best by her. And there’s the rub. I’d need to change everything. Yikes!
At almost 52 years of age, I’m of the opinion that friendships are much better for me than romances. Friendships are a sane option. Romances are not. Fortunately, there’s not much sweeter in life than a good friendship — although chocolate comes awfully close.
Well, that’s my story of meeting someone on the net I find myself deeply attracted to — what’s yours? And how did it work out for you?