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Posts Tagged ‘love’

23 APRIL, 2014

Love Undetectable: Andrew Sullivan on Why Friendship Is a Greater Gift Than Romantic Love

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Reflections on the cornerstone of our flourishing.

“A principal fruit of friendship,” Francis Bacon observed, “is the ease and discharge of the fulness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce.” Thoreau would “sometimes awake in the night and think of friendship and its possibilities.” St. Augustine described friendship as “sweet beyond the sweetness of life.” But what exactly is friendship — what defines its singular hallmark? Shortly after his dear friend Patrick’s death, Andrew Sullivan — one of the deepest thinkers and most enchanting writers of our time — was gripped with grief so all-consuming that it led him to examine the nature of friendship itself, a bond so special that its forceful breakage could induce pain of such unbearable proportions. In the altogether fantastic 1998 volume Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (public library), he considers the inner workings of friendship and argues that its gift is far greater than that of romantic love, despite our cultural bias for the latter.

Sullivan writes:

For me, friendship has always been the most accessible of relationships — certainly far more so than romantic love. Friendship, I learned, provided a buffer in the interplay of emotions, a distance that made the risk of intimacy bearable, a space that allowed the other person to remain safely another person.

He argues that our world has failed to give friendship its due as “a critical social institution, as an ennobling moral experience, as an immensely delicate but essential interplay of the virtues required to sustain a fully realized human being.” And yet, he concedes, the cultural silence around friendship also reflects an inherent truth about the nature of the bond itself:

You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their “relationship,” but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out.

Reflecting on the tragedy of loss that prompted his meditation, Sullivan adds:

A part of this reticence is reflected in the moments when friendship is appreciated. If friendship rarely articulates itself when it is in full flood, it is often only given its due when it is over, especially if its end is sudden or caused by death. Suddenly, it seems, we have lost something so valuable and profound that we have to make up for our previous neglect and acknowledge it in ways that would have seemed inappropriate before… It is as if death and friendship enjoy a particularly close relationship, as if it is only when pressed to the extreme of experience that this least extreme of relationships finds its voice, or when we are forced to consider what really matters, that we begin to consider what friendship is.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from 'I’ll Be You and You Be Me' by Ruth Krauss, 1954. Click image for more.

In that consideration, Sullivan turns to Aristotle, who is perhaps philosophy’s greatest patron saint of friendship. In Aristotle’s day, the Ancient Greek notion of phila cast a wide net to capture the many dimensions of friendship. Sullivan writes:

In Aristotle’s hermetically sane universe, the instinct for human connection is so common and so self-evidently good that there is little compunction to rule certain friendships out of the arc of human friendliness. There is merely an attempt to understand and categorize each instance of phila and to place each instance of the instinct in its natural and ennobling place. Everything is true, Aristotle seems to say, so long as it is never taken for anything more than it is. And so friendship belongs to the nod of daily passengers on a commuter train, to the regular business client, and to the ornery neighbor. It encompasses the social climber and the social butterfly, the childhood crush and the lifelong soulmate. It comprises the relationship between a boss and his employees, a husband and his wife, a one-night stand and a longtime philanderer, a public official and his dubious contributor.

[…]

Friendship, for Aristotle, seems to be the cornerstone of human society and flourishing, an integral part of happiness, and bound up inextricably with the notion of virtue.

For Aristotle, the defining feature of friendship was the trifecta of reciprocity, equality, and the physical sharing of life. Sullivan tackles the first element:

Unlike a variety of other relationships, friendship requires an acknowledgement by both parties that they are involved or it fails to exist. One can admire someone who is completely unaware of our admiration, and the integrity of that admiration is not lost; one may even employ someone without knowing who it is specifically one employs; one may be related to a great-aunt whom one has never met (and may fail ever to meet). And one may, of course, fall in love with someone without the beloved being aware of it or reciprocating the love at all. And in all these cases, the relationships are still what they are, whatever the attitude of the other person in them: they are relationships of admiration, business, family, or love.

But friendship is different. Friendship uniquely requires mutual self-knowledge and will. It takes two competent, willing people to be friends. You cannot impose a friendship on someone, although you can impose a crush, a lawsuit, or an obsession. If friendship is not reciprocated, it simply ceases to exist or, rather, it never existed in the first place.

Perhaps more challenging to grasp is the condition of sharing in one another’s physical life. Why should two friends be required to have regular physical and verbal contact? Sullivan writes:

It has been said that a person’s religion is best defined not by what he says he believes but simply by what he actually does. Equally, it could be said that one’s friends are simply those people with whom one spends one’s life. Period. Anything else is a form of rationalization.

What’s interesting to consider, however, is that at the time of Sullivan’s writing — and certainly in Aristotle’s time millennia earlier — the physical and the real overlapped far more congruously than they do today, in the age of digital sociality. Consider, for example, the friendship between two people who live apart and rarely spend physical time together, but are constantly and intimately connected via email, Facebook, Skype, text-messaging, and other digital extensions of physical presence. Is that relationship any less real, even though it isn’t rooted in physicality? Perhaps the criterion of “people with whom one spends one’s life” is better reframed as “people on whom one spends one’s emotional energies.”

Illustration by Ben Shecter from 'The Hating Book' by Charlotte Zolotow, 1953. Click image for more.

Still, for both Aristotle and Sullivan, as well as the centuries of thinkers in between, the most important criterion for friendship is that of “equality between the parties.” Sullivan explains:

This may seem a banal point on the surface, but the more you think about it, the more significant it seems. It is linked to reciprocity. Because each human being is equal in his capacity to assent or not to assent to a relationship, each is, in some sense, radically equal in the capacity for friendship. Even in relationships in which one person vastly outweighs the other in money, or wit, or good looks, or social power, the inferior party can quit the friendship of his own accord and reduce it to its essential elements. A friendship is thus ultimately defined by the desire of each person to be in it. And it is successful insofar as that desire is equal between the two parties.

[…]

Friendship… is almost a central symbol of human autonomy, and the most accessible example of that autonomy in practice.

This notion of autonomy is what takes us to Sullivan’s most central point — the supremacy of friendship over romantic love, or Aristotle’s notion of eros, despite our culture’s compulsive fetishism of the latter:

The great modern enemy of friendship has turned out to be love. By love, I don’t mean the principle of giving and mutual regard that lies at the heart of friendship [but] love in the banal, ubiquitous, compelling, and resilient modern meaning of love: the romantic love that obliterates all other goods, the love to which every life must apparently lead, the love that is consummated in sex and celebrated in every particle of our popular culture, the love that is institutionalized in marriage and instilled as a primary and ultimate good in every Western child. I mean eros, which is more than sex but is bound up with sex. I mean the longing for union with another being, the sense that such a union resolves the essential quandary of human existence, the belief that only such a union can abate the loneliness that seems to come with being human, and deter the march of time that threatens to trivialize our very existence.

[…]

We live in a world, in fact, in which respect and support for eros has acquired the hallmarks of a cult.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from 'Open House of Butterflies,' 1960. Click image for more.

Still, Sullivan concedes, the allure of romantic love isn’t hard to grasp. It has been described as a unique experience that makes “the boundaries between you and not-you relax and become more permeable,” a “fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will.” Sullivan adds to history’s most moving definitions of love:

It can eclipse every other emotion and transport us to levels of bliss and communion we have never felt before. It is intoxicating, but, unlike most other forms of intoxication, it appears to have meaning and depth. We believe, for a moment, that we have found our soulmate, that we are reunited with another half of ourselves that finally gives meaning to everything in our lives. And because we are with that person, more often than not gazing into his or her eyes, it is easy and indeed necessary to abandon perspective. In fact, it almost seems a crime against love to retain any sort of perspective.

Eros, Sullivan points out, blinds us to even such universal concerns as time and death — why else would lovers promise one another eternal love and swear that they couldn’t live without each other? More than that, they even “insist upon it, because to trap it in time would be to impair the inherently unbounded nature of the experience” and “because anything else implies that love is just one competing good among others.” But this quality of eros comes with a dark side:

Love is a supremely jealous thing. It brooks no rival and obliterates every distraction. It seems to transport the human being — who is almost defined by time and morality — beyond the realm of both age and death. Which is why it is both so irresistible and so delusory.

It is from behind that shadow that friendship shines its superior light. Sullivan writes:

Of course, the impossibility of love is partly its attraction. It is an irrational act, a concession to the passions, a willing renunciation of reason and moderation — and that’s why we believe in it. It is also why, in part, the sober writers and thinkers of the ancient and medieval worlds found it a self-evidently inferior, if bewitching, experience. But their confidence in this regard was based not simply on a shrewd analysis of love but on a deeper appreciation of friendship. Without the possibility of friendship, after all, love might seem worth the price. If the promise of union, of an abatement to loneliness, of finding a soulmate, was only available through the vagaries of eros, then it might be worth all the heartbreak and insanity for a glimpse, however brief, of what makes life worth living. But if all these things were available in a human relationship that is not inherently self-destructive, then why, after all, should one choose the riskier and weaker option?

And in almost every regard, friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide. The contrast between the two are, in fact, many, and largely damning to love’s reputation. Where love is swift, for example, friendship is slow. Love comes quickly, as the song has it, but friendship ripens with time. If love is at its most perfect in its infancy, friendship is most treasured as the years go by.

In fact, this difference in pace of development is what lends friendship its emotional gravitas. Sullivan continues the contrast:

If love is sudden, friendship is steady. At the moment of meeting a friend for the first time, we might be aware of an immediate “click” or a sudden mutual interest. But we don’t “fall in friendship.” And where love is often at its most intense in the period before the lover is possessed, in the exquisite suspense of the chase, and the stomach-fluttering nervousness of the capture, friendship can only really be experienced when both friends are fully used to each other. For friendship is based on knowledge, and love can be based on mere hope… You can love someone more than you know him, and he can be perfectly loved without being perfectly known. But the more you know a friend, the more a friend he is.

(In some instances, as Stendhal famously argued in his 1822 treatise on the role of “crystallization” in love, knowledge can be the mortal enemy of love, squeezing the hope-giving fantasy out of a reality that comes up short.)

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from 'Let's Be Enemies' by Janice May Udry, 1961. Click image for more.

Besides the difference in pace, Sullivan also points to a difference in intensity of investment, which translates into a difference in stability:

Love affairs need immense energy, they demand a total commitment and a capacity for pain. Friendship, in contrast, merely needs tending. Although it is alive, a living, breathing thing, and can suffer from neglect, friendship can be left for a while without terrible consequences. Because it is built on the accumulation of past experiences, and not the fickle and vulnerable promise of future ones, it has a sturdiness that love may often lack, and an undemonstrative beauty that love would walk heedlessly past.

One interesting consequence of that dynamic — of the difference between eros and phila — unfolds in the realm of lifelong union, which Sullivan captures beautifully:

The most successful marriages, where the original spark of eros has slowly lit a flame of phila that sustains the union when other more compelling passions have long since died away. Indeed, one of the least celebrated but most important achievements of the increasingly successful battle for women’s equality is that it has properly expanded the universe of friendship for both men and women and made marriage more of a setting for friendship than for love. This is no mean accomplishment.

He contrasts C.S Lewis’s model of love as two people facing one another enraptured by the other’s gaze with the stance of friendship:

The classic stance of two friends is side by side, looking ahead in the same direction. The two stances are not complementary; they are opposed. And although it is conceivable to unite them, it is quite a hazardous enterprise. When a friendship becomes a love, of course, the moment may be partially liberating. But it is liberating precisely because one is leaving the distance and discipline that friendship demands for the union and abandon that love promises.

(For a gripping manifestation of the shift from one to the other, see Sartre’s letter to Simone de Beauvoir on “the pleasure… of turning abruptly from friendship to love.”)

It is precisely in how each bond addresses the question of control that the most important difference between the two is found:

Love is about control and loss of control. In love, we give ourselves up to each other. We lose control or, rather, we cede control to another, trusting in a way we would never otherwise trust, letting the other person hold the deepest part of our being in their hands, with the capacity to hurt it mortally. This cession of control is a deeply terrifying thing, which is why we crave it and are drawn to it like moths to the flame, and why we have to trust it unconditionally. In love, so many hazardous uncertainties in life are resolved: the constant negotiation with other souls, the fear and distrust that lie behind almost every interaction, the petty loneliness that we learned to live with as soon as we grew apart from our mother’s breast. We lose all this in the arms of another. We come home at last to a primal security, made manifest by each other’s nakedness…

And with that loss of control comes mutual power, the power to calm, the power to redeem, and the power to hurt.

Friendship, by contrast, offers a wholly different and diametrically opposed paradigm:

A condition of friendship is the abdication of power over another, indeed the abdication even of the wish for power over one another. And one is drawn to it not by need but by choice. If love is about the bliss of primal unfreedom, friendship is about the complicated enjoyment of human autonomy. As soon as a friend attempts to control a friend, the friendship ceases to exist. But until a lover seeks to possess his beloved, the love has hardly begun. Where love is all about the juggling of the power to hurt, friendship is about creating a space where power ceases to exist. There is a cost to this, of course. Friends will never provide what lovers provide: the ultimate resort, that safe space of repose, that relaxation of the bedsheets. But they provide something more reliable, and certainly less painful. They provide an acknowledgement not of the child within but of the adult without; they allow for an honesty which doesn’t threaten pain and criticism which doesn’t imply rejection. They promise not the bliss of the womb but the bracing adventure of the world. They do not solve loneliness, yet they mitigate it.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from 'I’ll Be You and You Be Me' by Ruth Krauss, 1954. Click image for more.

Nowhere does this glorious dimensionality of friendship blossom more beautifully than in a letter that Patrick wrote Andrew shortly after the two, gripped with equal trepidation, shared with each other the same devastating news that they had both been diagnosed with HIV:

With all that’s happened to us — together and apart — I’m inclined to think that somehow we were chosen to know each other, to help sustain each other, and to teach each other about the mysteries of loving, living, dying. After the initial crush of your news, when I had been prepared not to receive but to give a report on my HIV status to you, I found myself strangely grown more attached and connected to you, even protective of you, and I felt an effusion of love and tenderness that, for the first time since I met you, was not constrained by considerations of others, of anything or anyone another than you, and me, and our feelings for one another. Somehow I was able to love you wholly, and this gave me great strength to face the greatest fears I have known. How is it that such news can clear an immediate path between us, sweep away the debris and the impediments…?

Andrew never found out how the letter continued, since Patrick never mailed it. This first page was found among his possessions a year after his death.

Love Undetectable is an absolutely sublime read in its entirety — the kind that plays more strings of your soul than you knew you had.

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23 APRIL, 2014

Why Love Needs Space: Applying the Benjamin Franklin Effect to Romantic Relationships

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Empirical evidence for the healthy push-and-pull of love.

You may recall the Benjamin Franklin Effect — that odd phenomenon of reverse psychology wherein doing someone a favor makes us like the person more. In this short “science experiment,” complete with a mandatory lab coat, the folks at SoulPancake set out to apply the Founding Father’s insight to the realm of romantic relationships. Though the task itself may appear silly and the quantitative finding hardly earth-shattering, beneath it lies a bigger and rather important qualitative point about the push-and-pull of a healthy relationship, one that resonates with the Chinese notion of wu-wei:

Make sure you allow room in the relationship for the other person to also give it back and invest in you. So maybe don’t insist on paying the bill every time or driving to their place every time. Give them a shot to invest and put just as much into it as you do. Whether you’re trying to get into a relationship or deeper into a long-term one, give your partner a chance to contribute to it.

Pair with a deeper look at the psychology of the Benjamin Franklin Effect, then see the science of how “positivity resonance” shapes love.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

03 APRIL, 2014

April 3, 1920: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Get Married and One of History’s Most Turbulent Romances Ensues, Recounted in Zelda’s Letter

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“Love is bitter and all there is… the rest is for the emotional beggars of the earth.”

During WWI, F. Scott Fitzgerald was assigned as a lieutenant in an infantry near Montgomery, Alabama. In a country club there, he met and instantly fell in love with Zelda Sayre, the wealthy daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice and the woman whom Fitzgerald would later anoint “the first American flapper.” The courtship continued through the war and once it ended, Fitzgerald — an aspiring writer working for an advertising agency and living in a single-room occupancy in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights — finally convinced Zelda to marry him. On April 3, 1920 — exactly a week after Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was published — the two exchanged wedding vows at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One of literary history’s most turbulent and dramatic relationships ensued — Scott was a ladies’ man since boyhood and Zelda developed an intoxicating obsession with ballet, which swept her into a downward spiral of physical and mental illness, which culminated with a breakdown in the spring of 1930. Perhaps ironically, despite spending the latter half of her life in and out of hospitals and psychiatric wards, Zelda outlived Scott, who died from a heart attack after years of heavy drinking, only to perish herself in a fire at Highland Hospital. Theirs was a love that burned with so destructive a flame that it charred both of them to the ground.

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

From F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters (UK; public library) — the same volume that gave us Fitzgerald’s heartwarming fatherly advice to his daughter Scottie, his brilliantly acerbic response to hate mail, and his wisdom on the secret of great writing — comes this long and impassioned letter from Zelda. Filled with typos and penned in a stream-of-consciousness manner, it was written in the late summer of 1930 from the Princeton University Prangins Clinic in Nyon and traces the history of the relationship from their marriage to her hospitalization in Switzerland:

You say that you have been thinking of the past. The weeks since I haven’t slept more than three or four hours, swathed in bandages sick and unable to read so have I. There was: The strangeness and excitement of New York, of reporters and furry smothered hotel lobbies, the brightness of the sun on the window panes and the prickly dust of late spring: the impressiveness of the Fowlers and much tea-dancing and my eccentric behavior at Princeton. There were Townsend’s blue eyes and Ludlow’s rubbers and a trunk that exhuded sachet and the marshmallow odor of the Biltmore. There were always Ludow and Townsend and Alex and Bill Mackey and you and me. We did not like women and we were happy. There was Georges appartment and his absinth cock-tails and Ruth Findleys gold hair in his comb, and visits to the “Smart Set” and “Vanity Fair” — a collegiate literary world puffed into wide proportions by the New York papers. There were flowers and night clubs and Ludlow’s advice that moved us to the country. At West Port, we quarrelled over morals once, walking beside a colonial wall under the freshness of lilacs. We sat up all night over “Brass Knuckles and Guitar.” There was the road house where we bought gin, and Kate Hicks and the Maurices and the bright harness of the Rye Beach Club. We swam in the depth of the night with George before we quarrelled with him and went to John Williams parties where there were actresses who spoke French when they were drunk. George played “Cuddle up a Little Closer” on the piano. There were my white knickers that startled the Connecticut hills, and the swim in the sandaled lady’s bird-pool. The beach, and dozens of men, mad rides along the Post Road and trips to New York. We never could have a room at a hotel at night we looked so young, so once we filled an empty suit case with the telephone directory and spoons and a pin-cushion at The Manhattan—I was romanticly attached to Townsend and he went away to Tahatii—and there were your episodes of Gene Bankhead and Miriam. We bought the Marmon with Harvey Firestone and went south through the haunted swamps of Virginiia, the red clay hills of Georgia, the sweet rutted creek-bottoms of Alabama. We drank corn on the wings of an aeroplane in the moon-light and danced at the country-club and came back. I had a pink dress that floated and a very theatrical silver one that I bought with Don Stewart.

We moved to 59th Street. We quarrelled and you broke the bathroom door and hurt my eye. We went so much to the theatre that you took it off the income tax. We trailed through Central Park in the snow after a ball at the Plaza, I quarrelled with Zoë about Bottecelli at the Brevoort and went with her to buy a coat for David Belasco. We had Bourbon and Deviled Ham and Christmas at the Overmans and ate lots at the Lafayette. There was Tom Smith and his wall-paper and Mencken and our Valentine party and the time I danced all night with Alex and meals at Mollats with John and I skated, and was pregnant and you wrote the “Beautiful and Damned.” We came to Europe and I was sick and complained always. There was London, and Wopping with Shane Leslie and strawberries as big as tomatoes at Lady Randolph Churchills. There was St. Johns Ervines wooden leg and Bob Handley in the gloom of the Cecil — There was Paris and the heat and the ice-cream that did not melt and buying clothes — and Rome and your friends from the British Embassy and your drinking, drinking. We came home. There was “Dog” and lunch at the St. Regis with Townsend and Alex and John: Alabama and the unbearable heat and our almost buying a house. Then we went to St. Paul and hundreds of people came to call. There were the Indian forests and the moon on the sleeping porch and I was heavy and afraid of the storms. Then Scottie was born and we went to all the Christmas parties and a man asked Sandy “who is your fat friend?” Snow covered everything. We had the Flu and went lots to the Kalmans and Scottie grew strong. Joseph Hergesheimer came and Saturdays we went to the university Club. We went to the Yacht Club and we both had minor flirtatons. Joe began to dislike me, and I played so much golf that I had Tetena. Kollie almost died. We both adored him. We came to New York and rented a house when we were tight. There was Val Engelicheff and Ted Paramour and dinner with Bunny in Washington Square and pills and Doctor Lackin And we had a violent quarrell on the train going back, I don’t remember why. Then I brought Scottie to New York. She was round and funny in a pink coat and bonnet and you met us at the station. In Great Neck there was always disorder and quarrels: about the Golf Club, about the Foxes, about Peggy Weber, about Helen Buck, about everything. We went to the Rumseys, and that awful night at the Mackeys when Ring sat in the cloak-room. We saw Esther and Glen Hunter and Gilbert Seldes. We gave lots of parties: the biggest one for Rebecca West. We drank Bass Pale Ale and went always to the Bucks or the Lardners or the Swopes when they weren’t at our house. We saw lots of Sydney Howard and fought the week-end that Bill Motter was with us. We drank always and finally came to France because there were always too many people in the house. On the boat there was almost a scandal about Bunny Burgess. We found Nanny and went to Hyeres — Scottie and I were both sick there in the dusty garden full of Spanish Bayonet and Bourgainvilla. We went to St. Raphael. You wrote, and we went sometimes to Nice or Monte Carlo. We were alone, and gave big parties for the French aviators. Then there was Josen [Edouard Jozan, a French naval aviator with whom Zelda Fitzgerald was romantically involved in the summer of 1924] and you were justifiably angry. We went to Rome. We ate at the Castelli dei Cesari.

The sheets were always damp. There was Christmas in the echoes, and eternal walks. We cried when we saw the Pope. There were the luminous shadows of the Pinco and the officer’s shining boots. We went to Frascati and Tivoli. There was the jail, and Hal Rhodes at the Hotel de Russie and my not wanting to go to the moving-picture ball at the Excelsior and asking Hungary Cox to take me home. Then I was horribly sick, from trying to have a baby and you didn’t care much and when I was well we came back to Paris. We sat to-gether in Marseilles and thought how good France was. We lived in the rue Tilsitt, in red plush and Teddy came for tea and we went to the markets with the Murphies. There were the Wimans and Mary Hay and Eva La Galliene and rides in the Bois at dawn and the night we all played puss-in-the-corner at the Ritz. There was Tunti and nights in Mont Matre. We went to Antibes, and I was sick always and took too much Dial. The Murphy’s were at the Hotel du Cap and we saw them constantly. Back in Paris I began dancing lessons because I had nothing to do. I was sick again at Christmas when the Mac Leishes came and Doctor Gros said there was no use trying to save my ovaries. I was always sick and having picqures and things and you were naturally more and more away. You found Ernest and the Cafe des Lilas and you were unhappy when Dr. Gros sent me to Salies-de Beam. At the Villa Paquita I was always sick. Sara brought me things and we gave a lunch for Geralds father. We went to Cannes and and listned to Raquel Miller and dined under the rain of fireworks. You couldn’t work because your room was damp and you quarrelled with the Murphys. We moved to a bigger villa and I went to Paris and had my appendix out. You drank all the time and some man called up the hospital about a row you had had. We went home, and I wanted you to swim with me at Juan-les-Pins but you liked it better where it was gayer: at the Garoupe with Marice Hamilton and the Murphys and the Mac Leishes. Then you found Grace Moore and Ruth and Charlie and the summer passed, one party after another. We quarrelled about Dwight Wi-man and you left me lots alone. There were too many people and too many things to do: every-day there was something and our house was always full. There was Gerald and Ernest and you often did not come home. There were the English sleepers that I found downstairs one morning and Bob and Muriel and Walker and Anita Loos, always somebody — Alice Delamar and Ted Rousseau and our trips to St. Paul and the note from Isadora Duncan and the countryside slipping by through the haze of Chamberry-fraises and Graves — That was your summer. I swam with Scottie except when I followed you, mostly unwillingly. Then I had asthma and almost died in Genoa. And we were back in America — further apart than ever before. In California, though you would not allow me to go anywhere without you, you yourself engaged in flagrantly sentimental relations with a child. You said you wanted nothing more from me in all your life, though you made a scene when Carl suggested that I go to dinner with him and Betty Compson. We came east: I worked over Ellerslie incessantly and made it function. There was our first house-party and you and Lois — and when there was nothing more to do on the house I began dancing lessons. You did not like it when you saw it made me happy. You were angry about rehearsals and insistent about trains. You went to New York to see Lois and I met Dick Knight the night of that party for Paul Morand. Again, though you were by then thoroughly entangled sentimentally, you forbade my seeing Dick and were furious about a letter he wrote me. On the boat coming over you paid absolutely no attention of any kind to me except to refuse me the permission to stay to a concert with whatever-his-name-was. I think the most humiliating and bestial thing that ever happenned to me in my life is a scene that you probably don’t remember even in Genoa. We lived in the rue Vaugirard. You were constantly drunk. You didn’t work and were dragged home at night by taxi-drivers when you came home at all. You said it was my fault for dancing all day. What was I to do? You got up for lunch. You made no advances toward me and complained that I was un-responsive. You were literally eternally drunk the whole summer. I got so I couldn’t sleep and I had asthma again. You were angry when I wouldn’t go with you to Mont Matre. You brought drunken undergraduates in to meals when you came home for them, and it made you angry that I didn’t care any more. I began to like Egorowa — On the boat going back I told you I was afraid that there was something abnormal in the relationship and you laughed. There was more or less of a scandal about Philipson, but you did not even try to help me. You brought Philippe back and I couldn’t manage the house any more; he was insubordinate and disrespectful to me and you wouldn’t let him go. I began to work harder at dancing — I thought of nothing else but that. You were far away by then and I was alone. We came back to rue Palantine and you, in a drunken stupor told me a lot of things that I only half understood: but I understood the dinner we had at Ernests’. Only I didn’t understand that it matterred. You left me more and more alone, and though you complained that it was the appartment or the servants or me, you know the real reason you couldn’t work was because you were always out half the night and you were sick and you drank constantly. We went to Cannes. I kept up my lessons and we quarrelled. You wouldn’t let me fire the nurse that both Scottie and I hated. You disgraced yourself at the Barry’s party, on the yacht at Monte Carlo, at the casino with Gerald and Dotty. Many nights you didn’t come home. You came into my room once the whole summer, but I didn’t care because I went to the beach in the morning, I had my lesson in the afternoon and I walked at night. I was nervous and half-sick but I didn’t know what was the matter. I only knew that I had difficulty standing lots of people, like the party at Wm J. Locke’s and that I wanted to get back to Paris. We had lunch at the Murphy’s and Gerald said to me very pointedly several times that Nemchinova was at Antibes. Still I didn’t understand. We came back to Paris. You were miserable about your lung, and because you had wasted the summer , but you didn’t stop drinking I worked all the time and I became dependent on Egorowa. I couldn’t walk in the street unless I had been to my lesson. I couldn’t manage the appartment because I couldn’t speak to the servants. I couldn’t go into stores to buy clothes and my emotions became blindly involved. In February, when I was so sick with bronchitis that I had ventouses every day and fever for two weeks, I had to work because I couldn’t exist in the world without it, and still I didn’t understand what I was doing. I didn’t even know what I wanted. Then we went to Africa and when we came back I began to realize because I could feel what was happenning in others. You did not want me. Twice you left my bed saying “I can’t. Don’t you understand” — I didn’t. Then there was the Harvard man who lost his direction, and when I wanted you to come home with me you told me to sleep with the coal man. At Nancy Hoyt’s dinner she offerred her services but there was nothing the matter with my head then, though I was half dead, so I turned back to the studio. Lucienne was sent away but since I knew nothing about the situation, I didn’t know why there was something wrong. I just kept on going. Lucienne came back and later went away again and then the end happenned I went to Malmaison. You wouldn’t help me — I don’t blame you by now, but if you had explained I would have understood because all I wanted was to go on working. You had other things: drink and tennis, and we did not care about each other. You hated me for asking you not to drink. A girl came to work with me but I didn’t want her to. I still believed in love and I thought suddenly of Scottie and that you supported me. So at Valmont I was in tortue, and my head closed to-gether. You gave me a flower and said it was “plus petite et moins etendue” — We were friends — Then you took it away and I grew sicker, and there was nobody to teach me, so here I am, after five months of misery and agony and desperation. I’m glad you have found that the material for a Josepine story and I’m glad that you take such an interest in sports. Now that I can’t sleep any more I have lots to think about, and since I have gone so far alone I suppose I can go the rest of the way — but if it were Scottie I would not ask that she go through the same hell and if I were God I could not justify or find a reason for imposing it — except that it was wrong, of cource, to love my teacher when I should have loved you. But I didn’t have you to love — not since long before I loved her.

I have just begun to realize that sex and sentiment have little to do with each other. When I came to you twice last winter and asked you to start over it was because I thought I was becoming seriously involved sentimentally and preparing situations for which I was morally and practicly unfitted. You had a song about Gigolos: if that had ever entered my head there was, besides the whole studio, 3 other solutions in Paris. I came to you half-sick after a difficult lunch at Armonville and you kept me waiting until it was too late in front of the Guaranty Trust. . . . You didn’t care: so I went on and on — dancing alone, and, no matter what happens, I still know in my heart that it is a Godless, dirty game; that love is bitter and all there is, and that the rest is for the emotional beggars of the earth and is about the equivalent of people who stimulate themselves with dirty post-cards –

This heartbreaking whirlwind account of romantic wretchedness is just about the antithesis of history’s most poetic meditations of love, but in some strange way it appears necessary, for love is a spectrum far too rich and far too bedeviled by complexities to be reduced to optimistic aphorisms. Perhaps there is no more poignant an articulation of those uneasy dynamics than this short verse from the poem “Advice to Lovers,” written by Robert Graves a year before Scott and Zelda’s wedding:

Love is not kindly nor yet grim
But does to you as you to him.

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21 FEBRUARY, 2014

Happy Birthday, Anaïs Nin: The Famous Diarist on Love and Life, Illustrated

By:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

I believe that most things worth knowing about life can be learned from the sixteen volumes of diaries that Anaïs Nin (February 21, 1903–January 14, 1977) began keeping at the age of eleven and continued until she died at seventy-four — things that have to do with why emotional excess is essential to creativity, why inviting the unknown helps us live more richly, how our objects define us, personal responsibility, the elusive nature of joy, writing, and the meaning of life.

But most enchanting of all are the timeless insights on love and life that Nin — a woman who made her own rules for living as expansively as possible in a society that kept trying to contain her — spilled into the pages of her diaries. Over the past couple of years, those have come to life in a series of collaborations from the Brain Pickings artist series, as I’ve asked artists and illustrators to capture some of my favorite highlights from years of reading Nin’s diaries.

Writer, artist, and frequent collaborator Debbie Millman created a duo of hand-lettered typographic artworks based on Nin’s meditations on love. Both are available as prints here and here, with 100% of proceeds benefiting A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women writers and artists.

San-Francisco-based illustrator Lisa Congdon created a trio of black-and-white hand-lettered artworks based on my highlights from the third volume of Nin’s diaries.

In fact, out of this series sprang my yearlong collaboration with Lisa, highlighting women who changed our understanding of the world, which kicked off with Nin:

Explore more of Nin’s wisdom in the archive, including a recording of her reading from the famous diaries, then treat yourself to the recently released Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947 (public library).

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.