On love and grief
When I fall for someone, I fall.
I don't do tentative. I do headlong. What's the point otherwise? If one day you wake up and think, yes, yes I love her, there is nothing to be gained by then saying, let me do it a little bit.
There is no point to worrying that you might drown when the water feels good just to be in.
So I was talking to Ally about who she is. She thinks she is a selfish, hard bitch, or can be, and when she makes me laugh with some of her exploits, I almost believe her. Then I think about women I have loved who did not even think themselves selfish and I tell her, get in line. You are going to need to work hard to beat some of these women, I can tell you.
I told her about S. I loved her intensely. She was older and wiser than me and used me the same way she'd use a rag to wipe her brow. She used her experience and smarts to manipulate me because she saw me for what I was (what I still am), a naive, delicate boy who doesn't know how to protect himself because he cannot quite believe that people really can have any bad in them.
So I saw her for a year, more or less, at university. Towards the end of that year, of course I went home for the summer vacation. She had stayed on campus. She had an up and down relationship with her parents, her dad particularly, and she wanted to stay in Brighton for the summer.
She told me she had one of the really nice flats and I should come to visit. Of course I wanted to. I missed her. I remember the twinkle in my mum's eye when I told her about the flat. She's probably shagging the accommodation officer, she said. We laughed.
So I took the coach on the long journey to Brighton. It took about six hours, although it's not all that far as the crow flies from Gloucester. It was unpleasant to sit through a lovely summer day on a bus but of course I was excited about seeing her, and I had a book to read and I have always enjoyed the countryside, so it was fine.
I got there in the evening and of course she had not come to the coach station to meet me but that was nothing strange. And when I got to her flat she was, I don't know, off but that wasn't strange either. She'd blow hot and cold at the best of times.
She said, I could make you something to eat or you can just fuck me. Which was her in a nutshell. I knew which one to choose and we were in bed a few minutes later. I fucked her for hours (I was a young man then) because that was what she wanted, always wanted, just hours of me pumping away. I thought it was great. At 21, I could not imagine anything I wanted to do more.
Even then, I was a man of little imagination.
The next morning, when I woke up, she was already up. I went to kiss her and she said, wait, I have something to tell you. I have a new boyfriend. You can stay if you want or go, whatever.
I cried all the way home.
My mum was surprised to see me but she knew what it was.
Really? she said.
Yes, I said. She fucked the accommodation officer and now he is her boyfriend and I'm not.
I did not feel bitter. I felt like I still loved her. And although I did what I have always done: went out and found a new girlfriend as soon as I could, I didn't stop loving her for the next year or the year after that, or really at all until she had faded from memory. And even now when I recall her, I know that there is the tiniest little candle that burns somewhere in me. Because I will not let love die. Not for her, not for any of the women I have loved, and still do love. How could I? I was not wrong to do it. The reasons for loving them were not extinguished by their cruelty, their neglect, their weakness, their lies, or anything they did. They still exist; they are still real.
But I didn't come to talk about love. I came to talk about grief. Because they are partners, of course. We do not grieve for those we did not love. And grief is somewhat commensurate with love. The women who I once loved and lost caused me grief. The candles that burn for them, once brightly and with time less so until they barely flicker, are memorials to the love I had for them.
But here's the thing. After a while, as love fades, you
stop grieving for the loves you lost, and the flickering flames of what
you felt grow cooler and hurt less. Of course, some had already burned low because of how things were. S dumped me when I was in the full flush of love for her so it took time to stop grieving because she no longer allowed me to love her. B left our home when any love had long burned down to ashes and I was glad to see her go. (But it remains true that just as with the others, I do not forget that I once cared for her and had reason. I do not diminish my own feelings, belittle my own heart, by pretending that what I once felt had not been real, that she did not, any more or any less than any of us, deserve to be loved while I was capable of it.)
I did not love any of them as much as I loved my first love, my beautiful mum. The candle I have burning for her has a raging light, a fierce strong flame that I feel unstinting and powerful. It has not dimmed one lumen from the day I last saw her to this day. I do not know whether time will lessen the feeling of its burning a little.
There is a difference though and I do not really know what it means. When S finished with me, I wanted the grief to end, to stop thinking about her, to turn down her flame as low as I could, so that it would stop burning me. I knew I would not get back with her, although of course I wanted to because I didn't care that she had hurt me, I never do. I want to be wanted and scarcely care what price there is for it. But I did not want to be in pain. I was, I still am, that delicate boy who shies away from anything hard to handle.
But I do not want my mum's flame to grow fainter. I do not mind the pain. I do not wish to stop grieving for her. I do not want to stop wishing there could be another time I could come into her kitchen, tell her about the travails of her heart, and for her to do what she did, make me tea, grab me into her arms and tell me that whatever women did to me, whatever I did to them, wherever life led me, she loved me.
I wonder though, of course, whether it is just that I do not want her loving me ever to have ended, for it really to be gone. I have never known why any of the women who loved me have loved me, bar those who are my family, and I have never really cared either, so long as they did. I don't really know why Ally does and I don't care, so long as she does. Her flame has overpowered the faint lights of past loves and still I do not really know why. I just know it has. I feel stronger for it and I don't know why that is either. Perhaps it is just the same as the feeling I had when I came home after S dumped me and my mum showed me that there was still love in my life, S be damned (and although I don't remember clearly enough to recall if she did, she might very well have said exactly that -- she could be wicked fierce when her lioness was awakened). Perhaps it is that I have finally found a woman who does not think love is something to be measured and cut, doled out to get what she wants, but like me feels it is a sea you swim in, an ocean you explore, and float or sink in the warm spring sun, float or sink but live and know you are alive.
And perhaps -- it is a tentative thought, not something I have pondered much, but just maybe -- real grief is like real love. Not a sombre, shuffling dying down of what you once felt, but a vivid affirmation of life itself. My mum has died but I am alive still to honour her, and her love has not ceased to sustain me but as it ever did it powers what is good in me, what little is good in me, which I still believe is worthy of loving because she loved it.
perhaps you feel
that you cannot be loved
you know yourself
better than they do
and you cannot
perhaps you feel
the stars are just
pinpricks in a night
it will never be light
but let me tell you buddy
you aren't in fact
you are no less
desirable than the next guy
weird as that may sound
you are capable
of feeling beauty
that's all we take to be beautiful
we only ever see the world
through our own eyes
and the world becomes our mirror
you thought it only worked one way?
you are wrong
you are wrong
in the one way you thought
you could not be
(crossposted from yourownplanet.blogspot.com)
Do not love me
I am irreconcilable with myself.
I want to be a person but I am only hopes
and hope is useless.
Sometimes, you spend all your money and get nothing for it but you felt you had to do it. Do not love me. You will get nothing for it. You will realise you thought there was a man and all you got was fragments. No matter how you piece them together, they make an ugliness that you thought you saw and ignored.
I realise I would be happier if I stopped lying. But first I have to know what the truth is. Or agree there is no truth to find. I sometimes think, it amounts to the same thing.
Did you ever wake up and wonder, where am I? Just for a moment. Then you realise it doesn't matter. You're where you are.
But do you sometimes wake up and wonder, who am I? Most people seem untroubled and I am envious. Most people believe they are sources and destinations of love and that is who they are.
I feel like I am asleep and will never wake up.
When I was with B, I often woke up with bruises and scratches. I didn't look too hard into it, not because I feared she was doing it but because I thought I was.
Sometimes she would joke that I should do what she wanted because she knew where the knives were and it wasn't all that funny because she really was capable of hurting me in my sleep.
Sometimes I hope I won't remember where the knives are.
It is a terrible thing to realise that you are horrified by what others cherish and that you too are one of them.
When I was a teen, I was certain that I had been marooned on a strange planet. Now I know it was wishful thinking and I was nothing special at all.
I feel, constantly, as though I lost something somewhere and the worst of it, worse than any loss, the inconsolable fact of my life, is that the biggest lie I tell is that I had it in the first place.
Do not love me. When you dive beneath the shell beneath the shell beneath the shell you will not find anything at all.
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
It is like a heady perfume has swamped me and I can't think because I think about her.
I don't mind.
It was not love at first sight. I'm not like that. It was love at first conversation. It was electricity, power. I knew she could power me. I knew she could allow me to live and I could allow her to live.
I don't even know what I'm fucking saying. If you understand, you understand.
In Carindale, I am thinking, they all chose these clothes, at some point, all these people chose the clothes they are wearing. Unless their mothers chose them.
When my mother chose my clothes, I wore a miscellany. It was the seventies though and mad flares were actually stylish. I was accidentally in tune with the zeitgeist. I didn't care. Girls liked me. That's all I cared about.
I'm not going to lie to you. It's all I care about now.
I am thinking, they all chose to have their hair cut that way. Except my hair, I don't even think about it much.
And my clothes, I don't think about them much. What do I even look like. A lump of shit in poorly considered jeans.
My girlfriend has a sense of style. I don't mean she's fashionable. I mean she wears stuff that's very her
. I feel embarrassed and clumsy to be her man.
But it's like she opened a door and I rushed through. I have spent years with women who wanted me to be someone else, the ones I was with and the ones I was kind of with but not really. They all wanted a version of me that didn't really exist -- a Windows 11, Grand Theft Nice Guy, a me that really is all the things they think i am.
Mad thing is, I am all the things they think I am.
Zenella is only telling me I'm handsome as a joke but you know what, I let my heart beat faster. I let my soul soar because there have been times I have only lived for her. There have been times I have wanted it all to stop stop stop and I didn't give in to that because I loved her so much.
That doesn't make me noble. It makes me fiery proud.
You know what? She didn't become what she might have been. She became what she is. And she isn't like anyone else. Hell fucking yes I am proud that my kids are just who they are. Hell fucking yes I am proud they are like no one else.
It will hurt them. When they realise they have been raised backward and fucked up so that they don't fit, maybe they will be angry like I was angry.
Then they will realise, I hope they will realise, it was a gift. I mean, you decide for yourself what it is worth but it's a gift of sorts. You are who you are. You are not categorisable. You are not wholly real yet you are as real as a person can be. You are a contradiction, you are legion, you are different from different angles.
You are fucking marvellous.
I would pay everything I have for her smile and I have. I have hurt her but I have not broken her.
She comes back with a swag full of books. I admit it, it is thrilling to have a child whose biggest love is books, who says, give me all your money so I can buy books, who cherishes books, imagination, the best of us.
We write our best. That's what we do. We write to say, we are worth it.
I believe you are worth it. Whoever is reading this, if anyone reads this, I believe you are worth it. I refuse to stop.
The people look sad in Carindale. No one ever smiles. No one laughs. It does not make us happy to shop. I ask myself if I am happy but I can't think about shopping. All I think about is Ally Ally Ally and how happy I nearly am.
Because I'm afraid. Afraid that if I let go I might drown.
No one has read this far. You gave up in the second paragraph or the third if you're a diehard. So I am left talking to only myself.
Davey, I am ready to love you again. I am ready to cherish you again but I have felt those tentative steps to fucking it up and I have to tell you, ask you, plead with you.
Don't fuck it up.
You have the opportunity to love. To pour as much love as you can into the world. So pour, motherfucker. Pour, keep pouring, don't stop, don't ever stop. Be happy at last. Your children are beautiful and they're whole. Your woman is beautiful and she loves you. You are beautiful and you cannot deny it.
Yesterday, I thought about my mum and I cried because if only. But she knew and does not need to be here to have known. She knew.
So a weird thing happened to me on Easter Sunday. I became a cliche.
I was just doing what you do, getting hammered round at a mate's house. I'd just been dumped but I wasn't really feeling sorry for myself because it hadn't taken me long to realise she wasn't worth much in the way of tears. But my mate said, ooooh shall I get Ally to come round and I was like, yeah, not bothered but go on (and I wasn't bothered but
I'd seen a photo of this Ally and believe me she was the kind of hot that fires me up and I'd heard quite a bit about how she was probably too awesome for me to handle and you know, I do believe I can handle a bit of awesome).
So this woman comes round and she's loud, a bit aggro, the way some English girls get when they are in a fresh social situation, and yeah she's sexy -- okay, I'm going to say dripping sexiness because this is a woman who knows
she can have her pick of the men present -- and very comfortable from the off and hella funny and engaging.
And I'm like, yeah I would
. Because of course I would. I'm a total slut, you know that. And if she didn't have her kids with her, we'd have been sharing the spare room because one thing I'll say about that woman is she is an adult
and she doesn't pretend to have hangups about getting what she wants, and if we're honest, neither do I.
But I didn't become a cliche straight away.
The next day, or maybe the one after, it's a blur, we talked on Facebook, like you do, and I just gunned it, like I never do. But I knew it was right
with this woman. I said, I get the charade and I like it but I am seeing someone different beneath that shell, someone much more tender.
And at some point, before we'd so much as kissed, it just struck me, this is the woman I want for life.
Now I do overenthusiastic. You know that. You know I get keen on women and then get my balloon burst. That's who I am. A Romantic. A heart in search of love. Whatever. But I had promised myself I would not be doing that again. I would not get too keen over too little. I would not look at a woman and see only the good points and ignore the bad.
And I don't make promises lightly, particularly to myself.
But I had a problem.
There were so many good points. I had to face it. I had steeled myself to accept being chill, staying casual, not getting too keen, blah blah.
And I had just met a woman I could love with everything I have.
So I know what you're thinking. You're cynical, bit like me. You are, like, well you usually settle for women who in a former age would have seen a great deal of the inside of an asylum because you have low enough self esteem that if any actual proper woman who was in the slightest bit hot gave you the nod, you'd wade through broken glass to get at her. And you're right.
But Ally is not just hot. Don't get me wrong. She's the hottest woman I've ever dated. I fancy her in a my dick's on fire way. Most men do. I'm not at all exaggerating. I've seen her walk into shops, servos, pubs and men just melt and turn into putty for her. She has the most singular sexual magnetism I've ever seen in a woman. I feel like high fiving myself because she wants me.
I say feel like. I have actually high fived myself, believe it.
She is also smart. She comes up with solutions to things. Things that leave me floundering, she ploughs through. If it looks insurmountable to me, it's just a blip on the GPS for her.
She is hella funny. She has a sense of humour that matches mine, quick wit, sharp tongue. I have never laughed so long and so hard with someone as I do with her. She's nearly as funny as I am, ffs.
She is as scattered and unfocused as I am. We get each other because we are similar in a lot of ways. We both live in a world where there cannot be too much stimulus.
She shares my values in a way that's scary. We agree on every fundamental. I mean, you talk about people being on your wavelength but Ally could often just have my thoughts for me.
Ah, don't let me bang on about how kind, how generous, how sweet she is. How when you get past the shell she likes to believe is really her, you find a deeper, beautiful soul. Let's just say that what makes her the woman I want to be with, more than anything else (and I know I haven't done it justice, I'm just trying to give a flavour), is that her instinct is to the good. She wants to be a cool, hard bitch but she fails constantly
. And she fails because she is just a good, good person.
And you know I want to believe that about myself too and she believes it.
So which cliche? All of them! You could pick from quite the range.
But the one that means most to me? The man who hated himself until he met someone who loved him and he could not doubt that love was worth having. When someone as wondermazing as Ally loves you, you cannot do anything but love yourself.
And you'll never get to know the full range of wondermazing. Because she's mine. I'm not sharing. She's mine for life.
You are mine
You know why I am never letting you go? Because you are the only woman I've ever met who truly wanted to give me as much as I wanted to give her. And I know it sounds selfish but I'm selfish.
You know why I will cherish you? Because you make the little boy I hide away and keep from harm want to come out and play and I know you will not hurt him, even though a day will come when you will be able to. I don't have proof. I have faith. I have seen who you are and nothing about you frightens me.
You know why I want to unlock you, to make you flourish, to reach into you and drag out everything beautiful in you and make it mine? Because you have a secret smile that you have saved throughout these years, which you kept for a man like me, and only me, to smile at. Because you are afraid to drive off the cliff and fall into the dark, roiling storm of you and me, but you stop only to throw the brakes out of the window and grab my hand.
We are snakes that entwine in the dark of the night, quivering with the resonance of something we cannot name. Our bodies speak a language that cannot be spoken but is clearly understood. In the dark of the night, we try to translate ourselves into human language, and the words are pale imitations of the meaning we convey, but the words are just markers on the road and the meaning lies truly in my hand gentle on your face, your hand gentle on my chest. Can you feel my heart, steady and solid, waiting for you to awaken it, to possess it, to enrich it? Can you feel the stone unseize and become molten and fierce?
We fit together so closely that we will never be dissoluble. You are mine, you are mine from the moment I saw you and you saw me, you were mine before we met. Beneath the man who will free you is a man who will possess you. Beneath the man who will possess you is a man who will bind you. Beneath the man who will bind you is a void that if you enter it you will never return. Because you belong there, it is shaped for you and only for you.
How not to write badly (4): Do not sprawl
I'm cheating a bit because this is more of a "how to write" than how not to but I think it just about fits.
I'm going to share my method to fix two problems writers often have: loose structure and writing too much. I'm aiming this at assignment writing but the same principles actually apply to writing fiction, playwriting, any form of writing that requires structure.
What do I mean by loose structure? It's easiest to say what is desirable and you can think about how you might stray from this. A great assignment is driven by ideas. It pops from idea to idea without losing its drive. You can readily follow its thesis and the writing has thrust.
The same principle applies to writing, say, a novel. You should have narrative drive. It's what makes a reader want to keep turning the page. If you waffle, you start to lose the reader.
What do I mean by writing too much? Well, for assignments we generally mean you can't stick to the word count. And for a novel, you write too much filler. Or not enough words. Writing too little is just the same problem from the other way round. Assignments with decent word counts can seem daunting. If you ask someone to write 3000 words on a particular thing, they might flinch from the job, procrastinate, see it as a mountain that's hard to climb. How to fix that?
Here's my method. I use a tree.
The first thing to do is to think about what your assignment says in the simplest of terms. You are going to explain it to a child. In fact, your goal in most formal writing is to write at a level that would be comprehensible to a bright 10-year-old. If my Zenita cannot understand what you're saying, you are writing badly. You aren't Heidegger. You are a student trying to get a good grade. Teachers don't want to wade through shit any more than the rest of us do.
So you need the star idea. I'm going to help you grasp this by using an example from an essay I might have written for my degree.
STAR: Generative semantics was a competitor to TG grammar that was discarded because it could not resolve some utterance types
So I have done a literature review on generative semantics, an approach that briefly flamed and then died away. My thesis is that it died away because it could not explain some utterances (sentences, basically) in English. This idea will drive my whole assignment.
I did this approach for a friend. It took a while to elicit what the star idea was because it's probably easier for me to summarise concepts in plain English than it is for her. That's because my brain works that way. But you can do it quite easily. Just remember you are trying to explain it to a child. Write keywords and think about how they link together. Her assignment is a literature review on hyperlexia. She tells me that it was once considered a savant skill and is now considered a learning disability because it shows a cognitive deficit.
STAR: Hyperlexia used to be considered a savant skill but is now seen as a cognitive deficit.
Now, notice straight away that both star ideas have concepts that a child can't understand. The words are meaningless. These are things we must explain.
And what if you were writing a novel? STAR: Young man meets a convict and it changes his life.
These ideas provide drive for your work. You will avoid the common mistake of "narrating" an assignment, where you begin then start to tell the reader everything you know. "And then... And then... And then..." This lacks the thrust you want your writing to have and also is very hard to structure properly (because it's unstructured).
So I have my star idea. Next I create five or six heads. Doesn't have to be any particular number but generally five or six is about right. These can and usually should take the form of questions. They are the questions a child might ask you when you express the star idea.
HEAD: What was generative semantics?
HEAD: How did it differ from TG grammar?
HEAD: Which utterance types did it fail to resolve?
HEAD: How did TG grammar prove superior?
HEAD: Was it correct to discard generative semantics?
So now you answer the questions set out in the heads. Generally, a bullet list of six points is enough here.
SUB: A semantics-based approach
SUB: contrasting with syntax-based approaches
SUB: developed by whoever developed it
SUB: which abandoned the tree structure and strict rules-based approach of TG because
SUB: it aimed to more closely mirror actual cognitive processes
SUB: which was necessary because the previous approach was thought over formal
So for my essay I would have 30 subheads. I have 3000 words. 200 for the intro and conclusion, leaves 2800. Roughly 90 per subhead and a spare 100 to use as my bank.
Now I write each subhead in turn. I have 90 words and should try to write that many for each one. If I write too many, I must borrow. Because I have a bank, I can borrow from that first. If I don't, I must borrow from another subhead. You probably have a feel for which subheads can stand to be a bit light, but if your structure is tight enough, you should avoid too much borrowing. Because you have to pay back. If you had a limit of 90 words for each sub and write 100 for one and cannot cut, you must pay it back from another by only writing 80.
Now you have made your 3000-word assignment into 30 90-word assignments. A much easier task, right?
And you can readily answer another question: how many references should I include? You should include at least one for each subhead. These ideas don't belong to you. You're simply bringing them together. So provide support for each one with a citation. You don't need more than one but you should have at least one.
Can you see how this would work for a novel?
The star idea is the hook, the story in a sentence. The heads are what we call crisis points: big turning points in the action that drive the story. The subheads are action points: the things that happen, the "scenes" if you like. If you were aiming at 80,000 words and had 36 action points, that's about 2300 words for each action point, or about sevenish pages. You can probably break the action points down a bit further by analysing them a bit. Novels aren't quite like assignments after all. The point of this method is that we analyse each idea down to its atoms: the ideas that cannot be analysed further. In an assignment, that is usually the ideas that support the five or six elements of the central thesis. In a novel, we can conceive of plot as: concept > crisis points > action points > subscenes that build action points.