Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lyrical and the Epic

Men and women fall in love for their own reasons that oftentimes have little to do with the person that is loved. 

In his novel of ideas The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Czech writer Milan Kundera describes different ways that men and women love each other, pointing out that men who pursue a multitude of women "fall neatly into two categories."

On the one hand, he shows us Franz, the married man, who has taken as his mistress Sabina, the unforgettable woman with the hat, whom he cherishes as an ideal.  When Franz and Sabina make love, Franz always shuts his eyes so as to maintain his fantasy of her.  In this way he merges with her more easily.  This type of womanizer (who seeks his personal ideal in each woman) Kundera calls "the lyrical."  These lovers always run after the same type of woman, Kundera argues, for what they seek in women is themselves.  What propels them from woman to woman is their disappointment, since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found.  

On the other hand, we are given Tomas, the divorced man who has balanced his fear of women against his desire for them by devising what he calls the "erotic friendship" -- the relationship in which neither partner can make any claim on the life or freedom of the other, in short, one which does not allow for love.  Following his unwritten rule, Tomas pursues many lovers, relishing the particulars of each.  In fact, it is their particular oddities that he finds most attractive: an awkward gait, a large nose, an uneven set of eyes.  Having quickly tired of conventional beauty, Tomas is something of a collector, in search of that rare find.  This type of womanizer (who seeks in women the infinite variety of the feminine universe) Kundera calls "epic."  These lovers project no subjective ideal on women, he argues, and since everything interests them, nothing can disappoint them.  Their desire is not so much for pleasure as it is for possession of the world.

In an examination of his own work as a writer in The Art of the Novel, Kundera submits that the lyrical and the epic are two possible attitudes that a person might take toward himself, other people and the world, -- the lyrical being "the expression of a self-revealing subjectivity" and the epic arising "from the urge to seize hold of the objective world."

Which type of person are you?

For my picture, I chose an exquisite panel painting portrait from the Classical world to help explain why I endlessly search the dead past.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Silence of the Heart

When I used to go to see Firenze, we would fold our legs in our chairs opposite one another and close our eyes.  She always began her prayer with a thank you and what she talked about was always something on my mind, the reason I had come to see her (though I wondered how she knew the cause for my visit before I even said one word!).  Firenze always ended her prayer with me being the Beloved Child of God, the beautiful beloved child, perfect in God’s eyes.

Those visits long ago always filled me with happiness.  They were a respite from the larger goings on in my life.  I was in trouble and Firenze knew it.  

I had been seeing a married man who swore that he loved me, had loved me ever since we were young, but now that I’d come back into his life he couldn’t just pick up where we left off as kids.  He was married now and couldn’t leave his wife and family.  I was so desperate to be loved I didn’t know how to turn away from him, but the relationship was causing those around me anguish and was ruining my life. 

What could I do?  

I loved him and knew that I could not be “just friends.”  How could I have a relationship with him without betraying myself?  On the other hand, how could I walk away from the source of my happiness?  Everyone I dared consult about my problem, understandably, had a strong opinion or a judgment. My closest friends watched me, sadly, as I blundered along.  Firenze was the one who finally helped me figure out what to do: it was simple.  She said look inside yourself, the answer is there.

That is the message of The Silence of the Heart, a book that Firenze’s god-daughter gave me.  The answer always lies in the silence of your heart.

Look inside, the book prompts, and you will see that the source of your unhappiness is your own self-betrayal.  Reading it, you come to understand that what you were looking for in someone else can only be supplied by you.  Happiness and fulfillment flow from the commitment you make to yourself, and only when you love and honor yourself can you love and honor others without judging or trying to change them. 

But how to honor yourself when you don't know where to begin?  The way the book prescribes is simple and yet profound: 
"Ask for what you want and do not accept what you do not want."  
How many times we thought we were unworthy and accepted less!

Here is a little prayer from the book that helped me through that crisis, deepening my connection to my self and helping me to offer my gifts more authentically:
"I know what feels good to me and what does not.  I will say what I need.  I will speak my truth and I will be firm in my commitment to my own healing.  I will no longer betray or violate myself in any relationship.  I will communicate how I think and feel honestly, with compassion for the other, but without attachment to how he or she receives my communication.  I trust that by telling the truth and honoring myself, I am in communication with the beloved.” 
That last line may have saved my life.

For my picture I chose a vine that I found hanging from a tree that was tangled in a knot.  It was a surprising fact that I happened to notice when I let the rest of our party go on ahead and I lingered there awhile by myself alone in the woods.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Funny Feeling

The last time I sat down to write I scratched my pen across the paper and pushed away the tablet.  I couldn’t start.  My mind was elsewhere.  Writing was the last thing I wanted to be doing.  It wasn’t a question of hunkering down.  I had been working hard all year long.  Right now I had a deep need to do something else.
What I really wanted and felt I needed to do was to nest, to fix up my home, especially the bathroom.  I felt oppressed by the leaking shower door, the cracks in the plaster around the tub, the dirty paint, the unfinished floor.  It made me unhappy to go in there. I knew that it would make the last big push to finish my book more bearable if I fixed up that room, so I set down my pen and gave in to my urge.
A friend cautioned me.  She told me my time was too valuable and I should just hire a handyman.  She said her guy could probably throw down some tile and paint the walls for 500 bucks, but I couldn’t justify spending that much money right now.  Moreover, I had an inexplicable need to tackle the job myself.  Consulting my Woman’s Hands-On Home Repair Guide, I was determined to learn how to do it myself.
I spent a total of 75 dollars and the next four days of my holiday time off that I “should” have been writing doing nothing but re-caulking the tub and shower door -- twice (the first time I did it wrong!) -- cutting out moldy plaster, re-plastering the walls and washing, priming and painting the walls and ceilings and doors.  I cleaned out the fan too and learned how to reassemble a locking doorknob.  After two days of kneeling in the tub and two more days bending backwards with a soapy sponge or a sopping roller brush as enamel paint splattered my face, I had swollen hands and feet and could barely stand up straight!
Was it worth it? 
I don’t know yet exactly what it is, but I have a funny feeling I learned something important.   
It feels like the time when early on writing “The Red Coat” I had a deep urge to take on a sewing project and I let myself do that and I discovered in the process the truth about my main character:  she would sew the red coat herself instead of having someone else do it for her.   
How does one ever finish a book if one always lets ones impulses get in the way?  They caution writers about giving in to the urge to do housework as a way to avoid the work of writing and, yet I also read somewhere that instincts in unconscious people are the manifestation of the Self.    
Do you know where your instincts want to take you?  Do you dare let them?
For my picture, I snapped a shot of my old bathroom floor.  I decided to keep what marble I had because it's hard to destroy and beautiful, filled with strange hieroglyphics that are fun to decipher.