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Thursday, July 12, 2007


Love part 2

Anthrophile made an interesting remark on the thread about love and writing, which got me thinking about something general: external solutions. To quote:

This is also somewhat tangential: I just went to a screening of a certain ostensibly "kids" movie (I'm kind of ashamed, long story) and wound up going on quite a rant against this constant "love is the end all and be all of plot" thing that I'm being assailed with more and more on all sides. Not romantic love, in this case, but just... LOVE. Love means you win. Love is the solution to all.

Possibly I am sick of this because of too many years of exposure to anime, which I do love, but within which the habit of attributing the resolution of some pretty wildly varied, often fantastic, exciting and original stories to some nebulous "power of love" has become all too common. It's gotten to the point where the very mention of "LOVE" screams Big Damn Cop Out to me.

I would also enjoy it very much if for once someone would acknowledge that frankly, the power of freakin' love is not usually enough to save your butt. Or how about this one -- sometimes it's love that causes people to screw up!!!! It's simply not always the One True Advantage, like some talisman. It can be misguided, misplaced, unreciprocated, obsessive... And "baddies cannot love" is getting to be a very silly message to send. If not downright irresponsible: "I love you, baby. Now go do this that and the other horrible thing for me..." "I did it because I loved her/him!" This cure-all panacea take on the matter is starting to bore the bejesus out of me.

Love? Well, yeah, love is nice when it works. I like being loved. I like loving. Being loved is good for you: it improves your self-esteem, means there are people you can rely on for practical help, makes you part of the human race in a postive, integrated way. Loving someone is good for you: it makes you see the world outside yourself, teaches you flexibility, gives you faith in humanity. It can solve a lot of problems.

But fundamentally, the problems love solves are, at root, all variations of the problem that previously, you didn't have enough love in your life. Other problems, it's not so good at. It may make them easier to cope with, but it doesn't completely fix them. (And, as Anthrophile says, that's just talking about the good kind of love, rather than the crazy-in-love disaster that hits all of us sometimes.)

Love is hugely important; I've done a bit of charity work which involved meeting some people who really didn't seem to have anyone who loved them, and I've seen how its total absence can crush people. But because it's so important, it can start getting treated as kind of general. Real love can be tritely misrepresented as capital-L Love, and at that point it loses its meaning.

And something else occurs to me. I saw a documentary about the Hare Krishna movement in which the woman the camera followed began as a devotee and evangelist, and eventually decided to leave the movement because she noticed how intimately authoritarian it was. But what she said was interesting: she had been searching for capital-L love for years - 'I always wanted to be in love ... this perfect love, this ability to give everything...' - and felt she had found it in the movement. Now, ultimately it didn't work for her; you can see the guru making her cry later on by putting a lot of pressure on her to subordinate her own personality to 'humility' towards the authority of the movement (as represented by him), and she eventually realised this wasn't love. As she rather articulately puts it at the end: 'Humility has to go both ways or it doesn't work. If humility is not going both ways between your authority and yourself, then you're a sucker.' But, rather sadly, if predictably, when the interviewer asked her, 'Is there anybody you can trust now?', she replied, 'To trust, you mean to trust somebody with your entire life? I'm still waiting.' Notice that all the interview said was 'trust'; it was her who assumed that all-or-nothing, someone-to-watch-over-me perfection was inherent in the word. It's that attitude, I think, that made her vulnerable to such invasive authority in the first place: she couldn't lose the idea that a perfect love would make everything meaningful for her, and that it had to come from outside herself. Faith is one thing, but if you go around actively searching for someone into whose hands to put your entire life, you are going to get hurt a lot.

One of my favourite Emily Dickinson poems, which I'll quote in full because it's beautiful, sums up this vulnerability in the last quatrain:

I think to Live - may be a Bliss
To those who dare to try -
Beyond my limit to conceive -
My lip - to testify -

I think the Heart I former wore
Could widen - till to me
The Other, like the little Bank
Appear - unto the Sea -

I think the Days - could every one
In Ordination stand -
And Majesty - be easier -
Than an inferior kind -

No numb alarm - lest Difference come -
No Goblin - on the Bloom -
No start in Apprehension's Ear,
No Bankruptcy - no Doom -

But Certainties of Sun -
Midsummer - in the Mind -
A steadfast South - upon the Soul -
Her Polar time - behind -

The Vision - pondered long -
So plausible becomes
That I esteem the fiction - real -
The Real - fictitious seems -

How bountiful the Dream -
What Plenty - it would be -
Had all my Life but been Mistake
Just rectified - in Thee

Beautiful, but deadly. (I wouldn't assume Dickinson means what I'm interpreting this poem to mean, in case any Dickinson scholars are reading this; it's just something I personally hear in it.) If you want to get your heart broken, that's how. Your life doesn't have to be a mistake just because you're living it for yourself. It's easy to assume it is if you value others above yourself, but other people are no more or less valid than you are. Living can be a bliss just because you're alive, not because someone else comes in and makes it all change.

And whatever name you give it, love or anything else, if you're waiting for it to come along and fix everything, you've given up on fixing anything yourself. And if it's yourself you're trying to fix, it has to be you who does it. Nothing else will last. You can lock an addict in a rehab ward, but if he doesn't want to quit, he'll go back on his habit no matter how hard the nurses try to cure him. You can shag everyone you see, but it won't make you feel attractive if you don't work on your self-esteem. Even if the thing you want does come along, if you aren't all right in yourself, you aren't ready for it: as Toni Morrison has a character say in Song of Solomon:

Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don't, do you? And neither does he. You're turning your whole life over to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can't value you more than you value yourself.

Who wants to love a fix-it project, or be loved as a liferaft, intead of loving like human beings? What decent person can love someone whose whole life is a mistake till you meet? Honestly, someone who wants a mistake is more a danger to you than a saviour.

Which isn't to devalue love or support. It values it higher to put it in its proper context. Love, support, kindness, are incredibly important. But what they can't fix, they can't fix, and those are the things we need to fix on our own. We all need to be happy in ourselves, and own the responsibility for that happiness. Which is good news, really: it means we can start now rather than waiting for some perfect situation to float in out of nowhere while we wait unhappily in the meantime.

General rule of thumb, which applies to love as well as to everything else:

In this world, no one's going to save you, because no one can. The most anyone can do is be there for you while you save yourself.

Love, as the poet said, is A Dog From Hell.
There seems to be a literary ideal - at least in the books I read - of a One True Love, one soulmate who makes all your previous loves pale in comparison, who rights all wrongs and completes the hero/heroine's life. A lot of the time, it seems implied that before the One True Love, the hero/heroine was unfulfilled, lost and pretty miserable (even if they acted otherwise.)

I wonder if this is a device used in so many books because it's what we long for in real life? Wish-fulfillment and all that. I don't believe in soulmates; I think there are far too many people in the world for just one person to make you happy. But as a form of escapism it's a nice idea, which I guess is why it's so prevalent.
On the other hand, true love like this:


... is just sweet.
Okay, so there was a bit of a deer-in-headlights moment there. ;-) (And then a bit of preening. I am only human.)

I think the reasons Love Conquers All is so often used is because it's easy. Love will never not resonate with most people, and it's pretty darn universal. If there's a culture out there embracing the idea that love is bad and should be shunned, I'm sure I've never heard of it. It's surefire, and some form of it is pretty high up there on most people's priority list. (And much of what I'm citing in anime tends to come from a pacifist stance, "love instead of fighting" which considering their history and constitution is likely no coincidence.)

But I also think that this easy reliance is keeping several genres from being taken seriously, and often, keeping individual works from deserving to be taken seriously -- in particular fantasy, children's literature, and romantic comedy (although I can of course forgive it more in that last category). This makes me sad.

I prefer the treatment it gets in things like, I dunno, "My Own Private Idaho," or something. Or "The Namesake" (book, not film) -- love isn't always enough, but then sometimes you find it in unexpected places.
Oh, yeah, those kittehs are so sweet. I keep going back to look at them again :).

I was reading in New Scientist about how we're preprogrammed to believe in the idea of a soulmate, as a mechanism to prevent us continually looking for a better mate until we're too old to make babies with one. Which might explain why the idea is at once idiotic and prevalent :)
Have just found your blog.

A very intersting read and your final comment is so true.

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