In the Mood, Eros

erosMy fingers blister holding a particular photograph. It shows Pearl and Max the first time they met. I don’t know if it was love at first sight but I learned to juggle holding that photo – hot pic – burning fingers – juggle – hot pic – burning fingers – yikes! Chemistry, fate, the lobster effect – it’s so obvious even in 4 X 5 format, you’d have to be stationed on the moon not to see it. They were a couple, but each of them already coupled with someone else. Five years later Pearl and Max wed each other. Five years hence they are still married, a perfect match, though exhausted what with several kids to wear them out. It’s the happily ever after we all yearn to live, though I could do with a bit more guaranteed sleep.

Max and Pearl have entered the blah-blah zone – for story purposes they are as interesting as beans in a can. They are now happily ever blah blah.

The writable, the readable story exists in the tension between them as they explored their initial ill-timed relationship, got separated from the first claimants on their hearts, worked out all the kinks and obstacles, and finally declared their first attraction was real and long lasting. I only know Pearl and Max from the sizzling photographic evidence but I could make up a story about the first five years. The subsequent lovey dovey decades – who cares? It’s the love affair we all want for ourselves, but snuggled up in bed at night, we want to read drama, conflict, unfaithfulness, and secret assignations. Maybe a bit of sex.

February seems a perfect month to talk about love. That is, in between the kisses and chocolate. Not like anyone needs incentive to talk about love – we’re surrounded by the evidence of our obsession with it. You and I would be blips in the nebula nursery without it, not even a star’s glitter to mark our tenuous entry here on earth if our parents hadn’t – you know. So many writers capture the passion and intensity of playing footsie and sharing hearts. Why is that?

We love to read about love, and legions write about it. Love stories sell: scandalous, sexy, unrequited, toxic, lost opportunities. All the juicy passion, poignant missed chances, betrayals, and mixed messages make for exciting reading. Everything in moderation, maybe in real life. In stories, lots of excess, extreme to the nth degree, keeps us reading late into the night.

We could start with Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. I read this in college. Who didn’t? And then I read everything else Lawrence wrote because he seemed to understand everything about love and I still didn’t understand a thing. I mean, I was in college but first year. Who understood anything back then? I read Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, also in college though a bit older, and found myself shocked but intrigued. I couldn’t figure out whom to like, whom to despise. Well, gee whiz, of course. Read all the classic love stories, from Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby, Dr. Zhivago, The Scarlet Letter, a hundred more, and realized that books about love were also books about life. I learned how to make choices, how to live with integrity, what to grieve, what to celebrate, when to move on, when to look back. In theory I learned. In practice I’d learned nothing but it didn’t stop me from reading.

When I started to write stories, I started to write about love and this is where my writing stopped cold. Not good when you’re trying to write. With no intention of writing gymnastic details, I needed to discover the kind of extraordinary insight that marks great literature. Where did Bronte and Hardy get their ideas? If it came from personal experience, I had little to draw from. Did I want to write about the loves in my life, when I’d lived nothing like the adventures and passions of Heathcliff and Catherine or – or –like anyone I’d read about? My life was more parallel to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with so many lovers and buffoons, players and kings, and one poor soul who falls asleep and wakes to find herself in love with a donkey. Well that would be me, young and in love with donkeys and scoundrels but lacking the poetry. So how to write about love? Maybe I could not.

Then it happened. From a place where my young self yearned and my older self finally learned, I wrote about love. I wrote of people in love, even in lust, people betrayed, confused, longing, unrequited, even satisfied. I thought about how it felt to be in love and realized it corresponded to being alive. No matter one’s age or culture or orientation, what I wrote about is how to get from one day to the next, trying like crazy to keep my character’s sanity from launching into orbit and their dreams one step closer to achievement. Kinda like me. For me that’s what it means to love, to be in love. It’s to be in life. And that I can write about.

I can’t say it any better than this from the Song of Songs, written by King Solomon: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Looking again at the photograph of Pearl and Max, I see what they knew from the very first moment they saw each other: they belonged together.

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10 thoughts on “In the Mood, Eros

  1. I always feel so naive when I see articles with lists of books I’ve never read. I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any of the books you mention here. 😦

    That said, I am right there with you on the love/life connection. As awkward as they are to read now, things I wrote as a teenager were usually about love (usually about unrequited love). I wrote and wrote and wrote about it, always trying to get the words on the page to match the feelings I had and then on the flips side, trying to get the words on the page to explain the feelings I had. I’m not sure I ever truly got that to work out right, but I can say without a doubt that the exercise of writing about love and life improved my overall ability to write. And for that, I’m happy for the awkwardness and quirkiness of my early writing efforts.

    • Awkward is such a great adjective to write next to teenager. My younger (teen) writing was horrible though a few pieces won awards and I was known to be a “writer” in high school. You can attach the word awkward to that as well as wall paper. Gee I was a lonely kid, and so far from ever having a romantic relationship – a topic I wouldn’t touch from the embarrassment of never being close to having anyone like me. I broke the first rule about writing and wrote on many topics about which I knew bupkes, but I never tried love. But writing did give me practice about how to string words together, it did allow me to plumb my self pity.
      As for the book list: College degree in English, focus on creative writing. Nuff said.

  2. Great list of love stories. When I first read most of those, I didn’t even think of ‘love’ as the theme. But in retrospect, you’re right. It drove everything.Of course, the exception is “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”–which I’ve never read because I’m not into romance fiction. I should read it–it’s a classic.

    • Oh boy, Jacqui, I’m chuckling. Knowing you, you might not enjoy Lady Chatterly but if you tackle it, let me know. I read it so long ago that I mostly remember my reaction to it, not much of the story at all. It’s about love but I’m not sure most people would categorize it as romance fiction – maybe…

  3. I’ve always shied away from writing a love story. The thought of knowing enough to write it is what stops me. I don’t want it all that lusty and yet I want it to sizzle underneath. Being able to make that happen within the written content is a gift that I’m not sure I have.

  4. Not every genre is every writer’s cup of tea. We have to write what’s comfortable for us. Personally I think less is more, and prefer stories that trust the reader to rely on their imagination for details. That’s true with me for sex, war, murder, and horror. I’ve chosen not to finish reading some books because, IMO, they get carried away. When writing, my stories concern human relationships and sometimes get to a moment where I choose to go no further. Thanks for your comment, Glynis. I like your idea about sizzling underneath.

  5. I believe in writing about what I know. Well, just exhausted my knowledge of this subject. 😉

  6. I would love to write about love, Sharon – but every time I try to do this, crazy people turn up in the story and things get messed up and people go on massive journeys and there’s betrayal, murder and mayhem (I could go on and on). I guess this must be a sad reflection of my love life 😉

  7. But, Dianne, that’s a perfect set up for a crazy love story! It would be great! (I never think a story is a reflection of a writer’s life unless they say so.)

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