Friday, January 29, 2010

The Bitter Sweetness/Young Love Part 8

 

On Love


Yes, I'm sure this sonnet will last for the ages as one of the definitive expositions of love.  Oh, yeah, right up there with Will's and Edna's.
 
In fact, after this episode of unrequited love, I made an effort to avoid using the word "love" in my poetry even in the sonnets I wrote for later girlfriends and my wife.  "Love" is weak.  Oh, It's a powerful concept, a powerful emotion, but it's a weak, weak word.  Vague.  Incapable of bearing the specificity of this individual, this moment, this rising tide of pulse and affection.
 
And I do not, by the way, find the distinctions between eros, amour, and agape all that useful.  That taxonomy seemed like such a revelation when I first learned of it in my church's youth group.  But now, mostly,  it just seems to be a tool for repression and sublimation.
 
Gah!  It's okay that you want to fuck her.  Really.  It is.  You certainly don't have to act on that fact, nor, even express that desire to her.  The usual social boundaries are perfectly necessary.  They largely work at keeping people emotionally and physically safe.  Learning to negotiate those boundaries does not have to be disaster (though, for almost all of us it will be at one point or another).  That's okay: there is grace, healing and life goes on.
 
Agape is nice, in its tepid way.  Compassion and service and working for justice are all worthy things.  Go and do them.  But agape is no substitute for good, healthy lust.  For it is in lust that we are most engaged in life, in that marvelous, miraculous chain of creation and renewal.
 
However, I am a sucker for amour, and I'm not sure that it's entirely good for me.  "To love, pure and chaste, from a far."  Hell, I probably sang "The Impossible Dream" in the shower while this whole mess was going on.  Thing about amour is that it can be entirely one-sided.  You can carry it with you no matter what happens, no matter what the other person feels or wants.  It's beautiful, but it can be a trap.  It can be perfectly safe, in a way that would have appalled the troubadours who invented it.  The idea of courtly love was meant to subvert the dominant social paradigm.  It was meant to be dangerous and cross socially acceptable boundaries. 
 
          How can I describe the hurting, the bliss,
          The lonely hours laying awake at night,
          The confusion about what was amiss,
          The despair that it would not work out right,
          And the blinding rush of hope that maybe
          – Just maybe, in spite of the odds – it would?
 
I'd probably describe it now as a perfectly normal part of learning to love that I should have confronted years earlier.

          How can I tell of my having to see
          You laughing and sorely wishing I could
          Share even that small joy with you again?
 
After she rejected me, Jane tried to avoid me to the extent possible given that our rooms were two doors away from each other.  But, inevitably, I'd encounter her, and her face would fall, and she'd bail.  It got better, but remained awkward.

          The good feelings and all those painful ones
          Are both, I believe, part of love.  And, Jane,
          Love does not diminish once it’s begun.
          And so, despite the pain, I still love you
          And hope that someday you will love me too.
 
It was the fall of 1982 at Cal, and so I had the additionally surreal experience of getting to sit next to Jane after she rejected me at the Big Game which concluded with The Play.  See, a last second triumph was possible!  I'd just keep lateraling and refuse to be downed as I ran through the Stanford Band of her rejection.
 
And so I wrote these sonnets and bought a box of fancy gray Crane stationary, carefully typed up all seven of them on my electric typewriter and put them in a nice black report binder to give to her for Christmas!  (Gray and black?  How romantic.)  Thank goodness I chickened out about giving them to her. 
 
I did write three more poems about her that year, and so we are approaching the end of the story.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shall I Compare Thee/Young Love Part 7

At last we reach a poem that is a bit more like a love sonnet in that it's a tiny step in the right direction towards being more direct.  It's still a failure in many ways, though.
 

On You


 
Yes, let's focus more of my unwanted attention "on you".  I'm sure that will help.

          I want to say how beautiful you are.
 
I want to say how beautiful you are, but, instead, I will only speak of it indirectly.
 
There are two pertinent facts here.  Jane is gorgeous, but back then she had all the normal insecurities of any other college freshman.  Since men are behind the curve in our social, emotional and sexual development, most guys can not address that tangle at that age.  I certainly did not have the tools.  Most guys learn not to go there until we're well within in the safety of the make-out zone.

          I could write in some really schmaltzy style
          About your soft raven hair or the star
          That flashes in your eyes when you smile.
 
My particular issue for a long, long time was a lack of immediacy of my feelings and their expression.  I'd only figure out I liked this girl when the date was over, and I had a chance to process it.  And then all the emotions would pour out upon the page, by which point the girl assumed that nothing was there and had already moved on.
 
I would have been better off had I written directly about how hott she was.  She would, almost certainly, have been incapable of hearing it amidst her anxiety about her freshman two, but, at least, doing so would have been more honest.

          But the beauty that overwhelms me so
          Is, instead, an inner glow of caring.
 
No, Little Mertseger, Jane sympathized with you once in a friendly way.  She was no saint: just a nice, normal young woman.  That glow you're seeing?  It's a healthy and wonderful part of your self that your overlaying on your image of her.

          You’ve much inside of you to give, and, though
          I may never be a part of that sharing,
          I hope that you will open up to someone
 
Oh, oh, oh!  Little Mertseger, be careful of what you wish for!  If you think it's bad now, wait until she starts seeing Tim two doors down that hall. 
 
Ow.

          So that you may know the same joy I felt
          Once the vibrations of love had begun
          To warm me and make my icy core melt.
 
As Maude says, "Oh, Harold... That's *wonderful*. Go and love some more. "

          Your beauty lays in what you have to share,
          As well as in your eyes and body fair.
 
No, not really.  I mean, Jane, was nice enough.  She was a little depressive for perfectly reasonable reasons that it is not my place to share.  No, her beauty, as I knew it, was all from wonderful, healthy, superficial reasons.  Fantastic cheekbones, large captivating eyes, a tall, mesomorphic frame, great legs, and full lips that were quick to smile.  Sigh...Jane.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Superpower: An Ineffable Capacity to Bore/Young Love Part 6

Okay, so maybe whining is not the answer to winning Jane's affection.  Maybe if I apply my vastly greater perspective as a JUNIOR, I can help her with her problems:
 

On College


          What is college life really about, Jane?
 
As you can see from the fact that I ended a line with it, her name really is Jane.  I shan't reveal her last name, but it would not matter much if I did.  The name she had in college does not seem to show up on the web, and so I presume she got married at some point.

          Problem sets, boring lectures, GPA’s,
          No time to sleep, intellectual strain,
          Declaring majors and long final days?
 
I managed to sleep ten-hours a night in my college days (to the envy and disgust of my floormates).  I never could understand the ritual of going to a library for hours each night, talking to each other, and avoiding actually doing the assignments and then complaining about not getting enough sleep.  I'd work on the problem sets in the afternoon, and if there were any problems I could not solve, I'd review them before sleeping, and then, more often than not, wake up with the answer. 

          The important part of college involves
          None of these, for beneath the constant strife
          You will find that most people need to solve
          The dilemma of an undeclared life.
 
And that remains true.

          You must discover yourself and your needs.

Know thyself! 
 
Is this the least romantic love sonnet ever written?
 
          You must find out what is important to you.
          And after you know yourself well indeed
          You will know, at last, what you want to do.
          But unless you learn that, all the knowledge
          You’ve gained will be worthless after college.
 
Yes, yes it is.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Neediness and the Anima/Young Love Part 5

The details are hazy to me after all these years, but I apparently presented the previous three poems to...sigh, Jane.  I probably copied them from the lab-book in which I wrote my poetry back then to the blue stationary I used back in those pre-internet and e-mail days using a blue, erasable ink pen.  We join the program already in progress:
 

After That Black Friday


 
One week after we saw Pink Floyd: The Wall she rejected me.  The exact way and location has been, thankfully, expunged from my memory at this point.  I do know that she felt bad about it, and that at least it was not the more usual, "We can still be friends." speech.

          Please don’t shut me out, I need to talk to you.
 
Yes, please: I'm sure the puissant force of my neediness is exactly what can turn this relationship around.

          I’m sorry about what happened last week.
          I see now what I was trying to do:
          Forcing you to become THE ONE I seek.
 
Is this the point where we talk about projection? 
 
Robert Bly calls THE ONE "the golden-haired one" in Iron John, and makes the case that guys project the "perfect woman" on the first woman we fall for when, in fact, that perfect woman is an idealized part of our own psyche (the anima).  Most woman will, naturally enough, flee at the first whiff of such expectations.  Women go through similar issues with their animus, though Bly makes the case that there are some differences in how men and women go about integrating these other sides of their personality.

          You said you couldn’t be "special" to me,
          And for days after that I raged inside
          Like some spoiled brat deprived of his candy,

Well, I am an only child, and pretty used to getting my way.
 
          A wise friend’s letter came to turn the tide.

Here's where I must say that my friends really came through for me during that time.  John wrote me lovely letters of encouragement during the weeks of this little drama.   Then over Christmas break all my high school friends helped me commiserate.
 
It was a couple of years later, after he came out to me, that I learned that John was going through a similar, but far more difficult, crisis over his straight roommate at the very same time.  I am extremely grateful and amazed that he would support me while his being in the closet prevented him from seeking similar support from me.
 
          It’s you I like, not what you can give me,
 
Bullshit.

          And I write because I enjoy writing,

Truth.
 
          Not because I expect you, Jane, to be
          Part of something "special" and exciting.

Bullshit.
 
          Even if you give me nothing, you see,
          You are already someone special to me.
 
And bullshit, yet again.
 
Yes, Little Mertseger, she was special to you, but you were not attractive to her.  It's really that simple.  The loftiest poetry in the world (let alone this screed of neediness and bullshit) could not change that fact.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Agony and...Well, the Agony/Young Love Part 4

Okay, so here's where I reach the peak of squirm. We still have four poems to go in this first part of the...sigh, Jane saga, but I came to my senses and never gave them to her. This one though, this one is the one I regret giving her. It would be a fine poem to save and present later in a relationship, but...

The only jury I ever sat on was for an indecent exposure case. A delivery driver was dropping off paper at a local company, and thought he was getting powerful signals from the cute receptionist. She had, for instance, shown him the storage closet and stretched a bit from her morning of sitting at the phone, and he took that as the universal bow-bow-chika of a porn scene, apparently. In any case, when she turn around at her desk to sign the invoice, there he was with his pants down around his thighs. She objected, he fled and by the time he had returned the truck that day, he was fired.

He did not contest the facts, and so the case was whether his intent met that of the indecent exposure law. He took the stand, and had the following exchange with the prosecutor:

PROSECUTOR: You had delivered paper to that company several times before?
ACCUSED: Yes, Sir.
PROSECUTOR: And you had seen the receptionist at least some of the previous times?
ACCUSED: Yes, Sir.
PROSECUTOR: And you found her attractive?
ACCUSED: Yes, Sir.
PROSECUTOR: Did you ever ask her out on a date?
ACCUSED: No, Sir.

And we in the jury were like, "You know, you might just think about that before you pull your pants down next time." We deliberated a whole fifteen minutes trying to find any way to interpret the intent of the law in his favor, but we found him guilty.

And so it goes with Little Mertseger: could I not have just asked Jane out again before writing:

Thank You


          In this last poem I’d like to say thank you
          For the hours we’ve spent this past week talking,
          For caring when I felt depressed and blue,
          For telling me so much after walking
          Back from the movie that cold Friday night.

Apparently, I'd share my sadness of being a lonely guy, and she'd shared her sadness over of being away from home and the crunch of the studies at Cal. And we had said some words of encouragement to each other.

          Because, believe it or not, I do care
          That you can see the joy and delight

That line should read more towards "I do care/whether or not you can see..." but the usual squeezing into ten syllables squeezed out some sense.

          That permeates this world. I’d like to share
          The secret of the happiness I feel

[DALEK VOICE]: CLICHE ALERT! CLICHE ALERT!

          Even in the deepest pit of depression:

Ugh: I usual at least try to avoid them.

          It is the knowledge that no one can steal
          From me such moments of confirmation
          That there are people who care like you do,
          And so I say thank you and I love you.



And so that's it. My great squirmy shame: the first time I told any woman that I loved them was in a sonnet after a single, perfectly chaste, kinda, sorta, if-you-squint-the-right-way date.

The Patriarchy Strikes Back/Young Love Part 3

We talked a bit into the night after watching Pink Floyd: The Wall. Jane was a freshman at that point and a bit overwhelmed by college life and the challenges of Cal. A beautiful women confessing her flaws? Like catnip. Ogg man. Ogg fix things for you. Ogg make all better. Take you to cave, Ogg will, and

…ravish you?

Nope. Write another sonnet:

Second Thoughts



See what I did there? It’s the second sonnet in the series. Face meet palm.

          Maybe you don’t like sonnets – I don’t care.

And here we see the violence inherent in the system.

At this point even Little Mertseger is dimly aware that Jane might not want sonnets written for her at that particular point in her life from this particular guy. But he’s going to write ‘em for her anyway because that’s what a man does. A manly man gives due consideration to what a woman wants, ignores it, and then does what he wants anyway.

Mary Daly died a couple of weeks ago.

          Sometimes a poem is the only way
          To say something. Because you have to dare,
          If you want to communicate, O.K.?

Just who am I trying to convince here?

          Jane, you are not a husk but a cocoon.

And what woman would not want to hear that she’s not a husk, really?

          I have seen the butterfly in your smile,
          Heard it in your laughter saying, "Soon…soon…"
          And watched the wings flash in your eyes a while.

Have we thoroughly ground the butterfly metaphor into a messy pulp yet?*

          But you mustn’t be so hard on yourself.

That could be my job, if you’d just let me in.

          You’ve got to open up your curtains, Jane,
          And let your sunshine out, not leave it shelved

“Let your sunshine out” is probably the only slightly redeeming twist in this poem.

          In some musty corner smothered by rain.

But exactly how does one shelve sunshine? And how can rain smother anything, let alone musty-corneredly shelved sunshine?

          You’ve got to see the butterfly within
          Before you’ll feel your soul fly with the wind.**

Oh, the overarching sentiment of the poem is not horrible. Jane feels bed, and I’d like to be there for her. But I probably thought of myself as a feminist at that point, but was thoroughly lacking in any self-awareness about how that might matter in, you know, dating women.

*No, we have not.

**Now we have.

The Threshold of Doom/Young Love Part 2

It would be easy to blame Edie and Eric, but they were only the trigger, really. 
 
The real question is why in my junior year at Cal I decided to apply for a coed dorm floor after two years of listing no-preference and being assigned to all-guy floors.  My guess is that I just wanted to be on a coed floor because everyone else wanted to be on a coed floor.  In any case, it was on the fourth floor of Freeborn Hall at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1982 where the whole disaster took place.
 
See, I had been perfectly comfortable as an observer of the whole love thang.  It was safe and easy to keep it at a distance and watch while it happened all around me.  I was, like many mathematicians, comfortable in spaces of interiority and seeing the angst and roil of the hormone-fueled couplings around me merge and purge with and air of faint amusement.  How droll it all seemed.
 
But then, Edie and I were in Eric’s room and we decided to go see Poltergeist still playing that fall at the Grand Lake Theater.  Neither Edie nor Eric knew that it was their first date, to be fair.  But they were holding hands by the time we were seated.  And macking intensely by the time Carol Anne in the film announced “They’re here.”  Meanwhile, I broke in two, forgotten in the sidecar next to them.
 
And so I climbed up the hill to my sacred grove and cried.  It was finally time to admit that I was human.
 
And so, couple weeks later Yvonne and Danny were orbiting closer, and I had gotten to know Yvonne’s roommate…sigh…Jane.  That Friday we went over to the California Theatres where Danny and Yvonne went to My Favorite Year and Jane and I went to Pink Floyd: The Wall.  Which we bonded over hating.  (Writhing maggots lose me every time).  So, of course, the obvious thing to do while she was away that weekend was write her three sonnets and then (“No, Little Mertseger, don’t do it!”) give them to her. 
 
Here’s the first one:

Saturday Afternoon


Because it is ever so important to know exactly what I did in the hours following our talking together.
 
          Poets, lovers, and joggers – I missed you.
 
Not a bad sentiment, really.  But which of these three things is not like the other?
 
          I went into the hills after you left
          To take in the sunlight and enjoy the view.
 
Fair enough.
 
          And to write.  But words, no matter how deft,
          Just cannot describe how happily green
          The grass was as it pushed against the dry
          Brown of last year.  I wish you could have seen
          The awesome blue of that warm winter sky.
 
California is weird.  It’s the winter rather than the spring when life returns to the hills after the first rain falls.  Of course, it was the green of lust pushing against the brown of my repressed desires that was really the issue here.
 
          And all around people walking in pairs;
          People running up hills, while I just looked.
 
Here’s where I stop “just looking” … and start writing? 
 
Oh, well, at least it was a step towards interacting with another human being.  A horribly embarrassing, uncool and misguided step, but a step nonetheless.
 
          But, Jane, I don’t want to jog, and, I swear,
          I rather take you than my poetry book.
 
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge: say no more!
 
          For I would try to make you see
          The wonder and the possibilities.
 
“make you see” is rather problematic, in’t it?  I would be her knight in shining armor rescuing the fair damsel from her own issues.  Would were it ever so easy. 
 
It’s not a bad little poem, but it is pretty indirect.  However, we’d had one chaste, semi-agreeable, sort-of date, and I was writing sonnets.  And that’s the issue right there.  I’m sure that…sigh…Jane had no idea whatsoever that this was coming.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pulling off the scab/Young Love Part 1

So Pamie has found a journal she wrote when she was fifteen, and is presenting entries with commentary of the rage of hormones that is being fifteen, perpetually crushing, and wrestling the pain to the page.  It's delightful, often hilarious, and you should read it.
 
It's great because it is so universal and specific at the same time.  She's a pro, and the over-wrought language of her young love was, most likely, a necessary part of the development of her craft and her person.  It's beautiful, beautiful stuff.
 
I can match her, phrase for embarrassing phrase, and so in the spirit of internet camaraderie and terrible memes, I will present the sonnets I wrote for...sigh...Jane.  All my poetry is already up on the web, and you can read ahead starting here (press the red ball to read earlier commentary). 
 
Boys develop later than girls, of course, and my emotional development was later than most, and so I really did not fall off the cliff over someone I actually interacted with until my junior year in college.  Let's, however, back up a bit to the safety of a crush over someone to whom I literally said two words ("Harvard Co-op", if you must know). 

A Rather Poor Love Sonnet Written ‘Midst a Typical Crush


See, even as I wrote the piece, I knew it was just another crush.
 
          I’d write a sonnet every day and so
          Wrench the sun to this page, if it would light
          Your cheeks in the ancient vernal glow
          That shivers me when you fill my empty sight.
 
Because, naturally, writing sonnets is what gets women hot. 
 
Perhaps it's a writer thing in which it's far safer to pour your feelings out on the page rather than actually talk to someone.
 
I do like the phrase "ancient vernal glow": in other words, "horniness".
 
          But you’re encased in the amber distance,
 
Who's encased here?  Certainly not this fine young coed who doesn't even know I exist.
 
          A frozen span that lets me neither speak
 
Ah, yes, me that's who.
 
          Nor know whether behind your bright laughter glance
          There’s a woman who’d understand these weak
          Words, or whether your soft spring-shine smile hides
          A void of thought, spirit, hope or passion.
 
Because this girl I'm lusting for is either capable of understanding, you know, English or is a vacuous zombie.  Those are all the options.  Yup.
 
          For love in all its forms will not abide
          Solely upon a body’s attraction.
 
No, it requires peanut-brittle as well.  Or something.
 
          You attract me deeply, but I must know
          That you contain a heart, a mind, a soul.
 
Did I go there?  I went there.  Little Mertseger was a pig.  Or just stupid. 
 
Ah, well, as you can see LM had a lot of growing to do, and it was going to get worse, much worse, before it got better.