Love like other stories
You were here, but I could not find you. Could not hear you or see you, just knew that you were there, just out of reach, infinitely separated. Fog flowed like spirit bodies, a crowd of the damned bent upon itself to fill a channel, to run like a river in which we swam, or drowned. In which you, and I, swam, or drowned. In which you, and then I, swam, or drowned.
a dream, the early draft of a poem
The thing is, after it’s all over, I’m never sure that it was real. Everything depends so much on the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell others, whether in words or actions or attitudes. The story of falling in is always wonderful, and that of falling out of or being ejected from always terrible. In between is the struggle to hold the most substantial parts of the former while desperately avoiding the latter.
He says, “Looks like those stories are pretty funny,” and I said some of them were funny, and then he says: “Have you got any heartrending ones in there?”
David Ives, “Seven Menus”
There are stories whose contrast is not so stark, whose struggle is much more subtle. And some who don’t end at all, except like Houdini’s wife, hope beyond hope. Even that had the stuff of drama, need, expectation, fall from the pinnacle of illusory grace, abandonment and the loss of substance. There are stories with no drama, no plot, no struggle to speak of, but why even bring it up?
It is that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Biographia Literaria”
Over half of all relationships end in rubble and debris and having to rebuild twice as many houses. To believe that one will end up on the happier side of that ratio, one has to ignore many things. If one fails to ignore these things, one will almost certainly fail the union. We need to tell ourselves heroic stories, of enduring and rising above the struggle, of a constant love untouched by the tragedies of life. For the other, we need spin a tale that smooths the wrinkles, flattens the conflicts, narrows the canyon. Honesty is for suckers and lonely folks.
… what is interesting about people in good society … is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask.
Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”
Who we are in love is not who we are alone. Love brings out the best and worst, the romantic and the contrite and the vicious and the mundane. Apart from love, we may be many things, we may tell many stories, but no one listens as intently. But our stories are perhaps less diluted, if no more true. It’s not that we are more or less ourselves either in or outside of relationship. Our truest identity cannot be distilled. We live in the whole contradictory stew of our history and our trajectory. All of it is the real us, and none of it.
Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
Voltaire, “La Pucelle d’Orléans”
Language always fails. Its borders always fall short of the realm of truth. Or Truth. Metaphor approaches truth most nearly. Metaphor necessarily lies. The sky is not the sea, and your heart is not a flower. The thing is not the idea of the thing. We must lie in our most heroic attempts to tell the truth. The stories we tell in the falling in, about ourselves and about our attraction to the other, are lies, fabrications, but beautiful. Stories from the end are repulsive lies, facilitating separation. Not to say that the stories are untrue, or the storytellers liars. We see what we need to see to make sense of the world.
On my wall there is a photograph
of my father, and another
of a man in a train station, his arm held
like a paper swan’s wing, as though you
could find the square root of something
under his shoulders.
a poem from long ago entitled “Stories I wish I had never told you …”