Monday, 25 March 2013

Where is love in my life?

If you keep wondering 'Where is love in my life?' Anita Brookner (Undue Influence) knew: 'love was on offer to those who knew how to deal with it.'

If the criterion for 'knowing how to deal with it' is that you must have experienced true love in childhood - unconditional, attentive, joyous - then I would, had I remained who I was born to be, prove a complete failure. People who claim to have 'no baggage' don't know what they are talking about. They merely mean: no wife or husband, no children, no wooden leg, nothing that shows. But if we have come to realise that we learn soon after birth the principles of love inherent to our family, then we come to that first meeting with a potential mate laden with unseen gifts or crippled with incompleteness if not seeping wounds.

For my mother, love was imbued with need; for my father, it seemed a distant attachment of sorts, he didn't seem too sure, and soon came to spoil it. My sister and I learnt practically from the breast that 'love' is needy, anxious, conditional, demanding and finite. I came to understand that the kind of loving I had learnt was possibly crippling and abhorrent to others, because it was incoherent, damaged, and consequently harmful. Hence a rich history of wrong choices and heartaches. I got a great deal better over the decades though. I have also learnt that I mustn't necessarily sacrifice my well-being to other's.

I never used to think I had a right to be happy, so much did childhood feel like a slow death. Happiness always seemed such a fleeting grace, something granted rather than acquired, even less deserved. Aware of the haphazardness of its delivery, my aims were elsewhere, and although I certainly sought love out, I never really assumed it should make me happy, examples were everywhere. I knew from books what real life could be like; I thought I knew. In my early teens, having read Jack London, love took the shape of a tall man in a lumberjack shirt standing in the doorway of our humble abode, after a days hunting, crowned by the light behind him. Childhood planted inaccessible dreams in my head: between father, who was sad in a quiet but stern way and mother's poorly buried anger, the anxiety of growing up was placated by books and a friendly teacher's support. Among the vignettes in my head, I still have a vivid memory of that glorious young couple: I used to lean at our kitchen window, staring out at the road outside our house for signs of another life, and I often saw them, cycling side by side, his arm always around her waist or shoulders, smiling, chatting, him with his dark wavy hair and her with her sweet blue eyes and shoulder length blond curls. They seemed to have a halo around them. The image left me disconcerted, wistful. Another is of my mother coming home one afternoon, having had tea with a new acquaintance, the wife of a writer who had a house in the hills nearby. She came back excited, at once elated and thoughtful: 'do you know what she told me about her husband? "He is my friend, my son, my brother and my lover...."  Isn't that wonderful? It's the most beautiful thing...' She was silent after that. Maybe it was just for other people...

Two's Company: Love Again, A Woman's Journey by Helene Pascal

Monday, 11 March 2013

So Who Was Mick?

I was, as is my way, intellectually outraged by his incapacity to describe himself. I was sure my daughter would know how to reply: Adam, her boyfriend, obviously knew, who told her recently she should have three initials after her name: G L B: Generous Loving and Busy! This should be a dinner party game I thought. I felt I knew who I was, my only problem had been to restrict my own description in my ad to a few words so as to leave room to describe my desired partner. The limit of twenty five words rather concentrated your mind!.......

The very first philosophy title I was given in the upper sixth form had been: 'Who Are You?' It hadn't seemed difficult at all.....I immediately poured myself into it: 'I am a passionate person without any passions..' describing the disarray I was in but never the less knowing my place in it. Having been brought up a Catholic had certainly provided me with many an occasion to ponder, search and at times agonise, as we were at all times prompted to 'examine our consciences': looking for sins seemed to be a favourite activity....

It had, I suspected, been easier for me than for most to reflect on my supposed existence as mother always seemed to put it into doubt, brushing my tentative thoughts or remarks aside when they suited neither time, place, or her vision of my unessential role in her life, since she only attributed to me and my sister as much existence and usefulness as was required by her needs: we were accessories. By no means unusual in those post-war days, we were children of unthinking and selfish parents who were absorbed and affected by the many traumas of the war, the need to survive and salvage what appeared like order. No wonder existentialism flourished at the time: it was easy then to feel that existence was accidental, aimless, therefore perhaps unnecessary. With so many hidden enemies to avoid or fight, no wonder I strove to make a small place for myself to start with, as a writer-in-waiting (I had to wait to have things to say) who would initially wait on an artist of talent, my husband Paul, until I decided that a life of subservience didn't appeal and left. Still not knowing what to do with myself I threw myself headlong into a passionate and destructive affair with the above-mentioned David who casually provided me with a much-desired daughter as well as many reasons to discover the whys and wherefores of my life.....

Two's Company: Love Again, A Woman's Journey

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Have you found out who you are yet?

Just to test him, I asked my friend Arthur:

-Arthur, if I ask you the question 'who are you?' how would you describe yourself? eight to ten words.
-Ah well......I don't know....sarcastic, helpful, nice, sincere, slimmish, good cook, err ......
- Right! That's not bad of a man of thirty five!

My daughter, later on the telephone, obliged fluently as I took notes:

-Loyal, gregarious, demanding, happy, loving, chatty, thoughtful, conscientious, adaptable, busy thinker...of course some of that I've been told, school reports, that sort of thing....why? 
I explained about Mick and she sounded outraged: 
- Mu-um! You've only just met him and you give him a philosophy essay title! You are so demanding!

Philosophy should be on the curriculum as a life skill, I insist, and 'Who are you?' should be the first homework: any child would be happy and intrigued to find out: I am an ogre! I am mummy's little husband....an astronaut!....I am the Queen of Sheba! I am nice..I am sad...

And I wondered to myself: how come someone so demanding found herself such lousy men? Was I setting myself up for disappointment? And could I now avoid what used to be the inevitable? I still felt strongly about the necessity of self-awareness: wasn't knowing oneself an affirmation of who one was?

I am curious about all of you who read this blog: how did you find out about yourself? 


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