Category Archives: Love

Books and What They Know

There’s a place in a bookstore, a spot where you can stand and hear the books. It’s the focal point of a multitude of lenses, the single point in the store where the projection of all their secret bookish knowledge is in perfect convergence, allowing you to receive everything. It’s hard to find this spot during the day, because all the people in the store throw off the geometry of the information flow, creating eddies around their perspectives and beliefs, futzing the reception. With all those people the bookstore becomes a strangely quieter place.

I’ve worked at various bookshops, in various countries, for a while now and what I’ve learned is that there is rarely a more beautiful thing than finding that secret spot (it forever changes as books migrate in and out of the store, altering ratios and alchemy) and sitting there. Smoking. And you just listen – listen to all the quiet tumult of books calling across the spaces to each other (because they’re not speaking to you, not yet). You can’t make anything out because it’s like those voices in your head that all go on and on at once, a susurrus of pitch and meaning that is almost impossible to decipher for more than a snatch of a second.

Maybe libraries have it, too. I don’t know. But bookstores do, the good ones. If you can find that space, that nomadic area, it will fix your head, it will cleanse your acne and it will pop that slipped disc back into your spine, afterwards bringing you cake. It will make everything okay again.

I recommend it strongly.

People claim reading as a process, a whole process, they condemn books like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code as being unworthy of being printed, or being destructive as a thing to read. It’s laying claim to brain function rather than taste. Shoot the shitty, mediocre books down as examples of whatever stylistic aesthetic you’re devoted to, colonised by or trying to get laid with, but don’t condemn the books. They’re just words on pages, doing whatever it is that words do on pages when we’re not paying attention. And don’t condemn those that enjoy reading these lesser tomes – mock them, if it appeals, draw disparaging conclusions about their taste and cerebral proclivities as much as you like, whatever intellectual eugenics bandwagon you want to jump on, but don’t condemn them. Because the books will hear you and they’re not a forgiving bunch. Remember when you read that book? That one that your friends were reading? And you were all talking about it? And there was that bit they were all talking about, the bit that they loved above all the other bits? And you thought, Sheesh, I wasn’t all up in that, I thought it was just a bit, y’know, a space, a thing that wasn’t that great. I thought that other bit was the real deal, the crux of the whole  shebang. Well it was that great, the book was punishing you for that thing you said about Don Delillo being a literary fraud whose books should be taken out of Contemporary Fiction courses all around the world. And for calling Dan Brown a cunt. The books don’t like that. So it hid that bit from you, it warped its narrative around itself so you wouldn’t understand. Then it sniggered.

I’ve spent many nights, after finishing some overflow of work, alone, wandering around bookstores. A couple of years ago I was the buyer for a particular store, beautiful Unity. A job that means I was the filter for all the books that made it through the door from the publishing houses monthly migrations, and, after I had been doing it for a while, I had a night. This night I was staying late, catching up on a thing that was running ahead of me, and I went for a wander, looking for the spot. As I was edging around the biography table, past a display on the central support column of the store, listening intently, I had a thought.

It was all me.

Everything in that store, all the books and all their surreptitious whisperings, were me. Because I chose them.

I’m aware that you never really own a book, you can never possess it beyond it’s papery body, though you sometimes think it. In that spot in a bookstore, where you stand and hear them talking, often they’re laughing at you. Laughing, in good humour, without rancour, because you think you understand. You don’t. You’re just a reader. You’re usually not even a writer (though I think they, writers, poets most of all, sometimes know; they have some conduit, some covert correspondence with the books that they can’t ever fully describe, though the trying must be part of the point, but they can’t hold it in their heads, because it’s the night sky, all full up with stars and expanse).

But I chose them, you see, all these books. All that knowledge stacked and pressed into the shelves and cupboards and displays. I was fucking Moses. I led them to this milk and honey. This whole pantheon of scholarship and erudition was an expression of me. Fucking me. That made me one of them.

I shone, for a moment, like a sun. Head back and arms held up, hard and straight.

The books were quiet, like they were allowing me that moment of incandescence, possibly feeding me a little of their energy. They were quiet, maybe drawing breath inaudibly. Then they chuckled at me, shaking their pages. Because I thought I knew. I didn’t.

But they gave me that moment. So I love them. All of them.

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A General Theory of Love: a review

Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.   

“People rely on intelligence to solve problems, and they are naturally baffled when comprehension proves impotent to effect emotional change… Ideas bounce like so many peas off the sturdy incomprehension of the limbic and reptilian brains. The dogged implicitness of emotional knowledge, it’s relentless unreasoning force, prevents logic from granting salvation just as it precludes self-help books from helping.” (pg. 118)

The authors, psychiatrists all, dispel the ingrained binary perception of head or heart by beautifully describing the intricate bonds and balances in the different parts of our brains, and the vital dynamics of these parts when communication between people takes place. Coming from three successive generations of psychiatry Lewis, Amini and Lannon have witnessed a massive shift in the fundamental understanding of the human mind: from the pre-scientific Freudian models that permeate our culture, through early pharmacology to the advent of neuroscience, their knowledge of the mind’s labyrinthine structure and function has undergone the same seismic shifts as the profession. The result is a depth of understanding coupled with a profound humility when faced with the vast agencies at play in the brain. Their triune voice negotiates their understanding, and the reader’s growing comprehension, with grace and humour, creating a resonance with the imparted knowledge and wisdom that’s quite startling.

Yet this isn’t a self-help book, more a scientific essay on the brains relation to the heart, A General Theory of Love explores our drive for intimacy and greater connection; the very real formative physical effect love has on the brain’s development in children and the continuing function of those physical structures in our adult brains. Using contemporary research in cognitive science, evolutionary biology and sociology this book illuminates how vital the quixotic interaction of love and biology are in the emergence of our personalities and, further, the relationships we create with them. But the soul of the book lies in the recognised limitations of science and scientific language; the authorial understanding that in order to explore the mental and emotional connections within ourselves, and the connections we form with the hearts and minds of others, they must avail themselves of the vast resources of humanity’s obsession with this love and its mercurial exchanges. Poetry, literature and the physical arts from across the years (these endeavors of so many hearts and minds) are called on and employed alongside science in order to explore the extent and vitality of the mind-heart connection.

Citing the lives and ideas of such luminary figures as Shakespeare, Freud, Darwin and Frost, this book reveals how the compulsion, means and ways we reach out to others demonstrate how our nervous systems are not self-contained structures, how important and defining the interaction between people’s emotions are. “From birth to death, love is not just the focus of human experience but also the life force of the mind, determining our moods, stabilizing our bodily rhythms, and changing the structure of our brains. The body’s physiology ensures that relationships determine and fix our identities. Love makes us who we are, and who we can become.” (from the preface).

Initially we’re introduced to our brains basic structure: the triune brain; consisting of the Neocortex, Limbic and Reptile brains. The evolutionary process of the triune brain’s development is explored, starting with the reptile brain’s autonomic necessity (controlling all those things the rest of our brain can’t be trusted with) and moving onto the limbic brain, the seat of emotion and instinct: fleeing, fighting, feeding, and sexual urges (known as the 4 F’s) before finally delving into our evolutionary masterpiece, the neocortex, responsible for such marvels as reason, speech and taxes. So impressed have we become with the neocortex many now place it, unrivalled, at the top of the mental food-chain, the senior partner, demoting the remaining sections of our brain to mailroom roles. To counter such hierarchal ideas the authors are quick and convincing in illustrating the equitable interrelations of the three parts of our brain and the resultant beauteous dysfunction we’re left with, all sitting atop our necks in such an illusion of good order that it’s hard to see how we screw ourselves up so badly, so regularly.

After a fascinating introduction to these heady matters A General Theory of Love travels further and deeper, on the road of exposition, into how our limbic brains measurably connect with and shape the brains and lives of others, the pure learning forces at play in a child’s growth and development, how memory can store and shape love, and, ultimately, what recognition of love’s ephemeral and physical effects could allow us to accomplish.

We often attempt to live lives dictated by binary relationships: right or wrong, all or nothing, head or heart, but the dichotomization of factors that confound and affect our lives are a rhetorical convenience that belies the hodgepodge nature of the world and our minds. ‘Emotional life can be influenced, but it cannot be commanded.’ There is revelation contained within these pages, an opportunity to look with fresh eyes on the relationships we have built our lives from, how they have hurt us and saved us with their undeniable transformative effect on almost every element of our lives. Jung said that the relationships we build are the masterpieces of our lives; this book does the remarkable in showing us the brushstrokes of those masterpieces, revealing the grammar and syntax of our emotional existence.

Month in Review

Far out! Thomas done gone fell down a rabbit hole, same said rabbit hole he’s been meaning to explain with grace, though in that rabbit hole Alice is wearing ruby slippers. Metaphorical re-tellings of such grand metaphors were thwarted by Pop & Dam, who are punishing Thomas’ enamoured indiscretions with postal lacadaisicality. Sylvia would not be pleased.

Kaz went and got 3 & 0 on us, joining the rest of the fam, but all wait with breath (bated) to see what Cecil makes of this. Retardo is too far gone to work up empathy.

The chicken tractor is in remission, blamable on Dingo Nick [real name] {homage, not theft}, who ran away with his digger. Luckily the Progeny of Dingo saved the day, two weeks late, with some quick shovel work. All we’re waiting for is the fowl arrivals. And maybe a motor.

Thomas, still falling, is getting used to the sensation, yet can’t help but wonder where the bottom is. Obama’s prize was dynamite (metaphorical) which he seems to have gotten for turning up. Kind of like tutorials.

Sought Suzie sussed out skype (still waiting on that call…) but MG couldn’t figure out how to work the writer’s see-saw, which is fine, the crowd yells, as long as someone turns up naked.

No word on Leo, and less on Esme, but rumour has that Daniel called his Poppa pudgy (spelled out in luminescent green) which made VeeJay giggle and poke him in the belly (one would hope).

Did Kaz ever wonder if she’d ripped off Razz? And does that make Emma Ham? And where is Timmy? All shoulder and paste? Timmy! Has anyone heard of skype?

No word (who is nicking the damn words?) on Jagger’s pants – leather vs corduroy? corduroy vs leather? Could you decide Mr. Bollinger?

There was no getting to see Jenny and her magic couch (to talk about rabbit holes) leading to further falling – though by now Thomas is questioning directionality, thinking, maybe, down is up and up is down and the world keeps spinning round, like a record baby, right round, round round. Though that’s no reason to forgive you your Phil.

Marcus thinks he might swear too much.

…Heather died.

Maybe the world is upside down.

Month in Review

Thomas started the month with an internet crush on a distant philosopher which may have evolved into cyber-stalking if not for the lyrical devotion he soon found elsewhere, while 88, in turn, stalked Thomas unrelentingly on Facebook and proved that perseverance does pay off when pursuing your dreams.

Little Dan proved he could poo and Big Dan’s Little One proved resistant to popping, regardless of how Pipping felt, all while Stupid Dan published a Stupid Book about people who like shaking hands in the dark. Adventures with verbage and Hyperion brought on fond reminisce about Devoted Dan, but that’s really as involved as he got (though he is always in our hearts).

Federer got rogered.

The dogs remained undoggy and the cats remained absconded (with little old ladies made of grey) but the real issue was the chicken tractor and it’s impendingness. The doves and half-breed pigeons did come into play, insofar as their excrement may prove hazardous to various waterways and food sources, yet the real issue no one was dealing with was their avian mortality and what it’s extinguishment could mean to the family as a whole.

Their were fights lost (metaphorical) and fights won (symbolically), the favourite trackpants of love (red) were damned to hell while courduroy was traded as barbs (with love) and for leather (due to love) and all the while pleasing reestablishment was made, for one, with the Moon and all it’s graceful mysteries. There was whether that was weathered and performances that were wuthered (gratefully) and there were uncomfortable moments that required decisions about whether and whence. But everything turned out okay.

Miss Robin ventured onto much ground rarely trod, with excellent comportment and bright hope for margaritas (and other words starting with M). Little Esme can now sit tall while Not Quite so Little Leo is apparently climbing up the walls. Hank is fucking enormous. FC, KD and MG wondered what on earth they were going to do with Mr. Jagger’s trousers, which was a surprisingly pressing question.

But if one thing became clear it is that Shannon Hoon’s hand is still mighty, influencing much regarding joy and rockicity.

Static on my Gaydar

My gaydar sucks.

“She turned you down?! Probably a dyke…”

“Um, well… technically she prefers women to retaining large amounts of water.”

I went through a period, in my late teens and early twenties, when I developed a succession of crushes on unsuspected lesbians. I’d get all smitten and full of crush only to discover (once quite embarrassingly) that it just wasn’t going to be. And while this is a surprisingly ego saving method of rejection (it’s not you exactly, more your penis) it seems to have left its own particular scars on my psyche. Until I have proof (of the undeniable variety) I assume that anyone I like is gay. If I hear the term ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ from a girl I get suspicious and, depressingly, a little turned on. If after that point of ‘partner-dom’ I later hear reference to a previous boyfriend, I move them into the ‘possibly goes both ways’ column – which is a cool column, in theory if not practice.

I’ve had a couple of girls change teams after being in a relationship with me – something I’ve always presented in as positive a light as possible when it comes up at parties.

“You turned her gay?!”

“Apparently I was the pinnacle of her masculine experience so, resultingly, she’s had to broaden her gender horizons in hopes of attaining more expansive experiential peaks.”

That starts to sound hollow after seven or eight repetitions.

The world likes balance. Thus it makes sense that gay men have developed a succession of crushes on me. I can’t blame them for this, apparently. According to some commentators a history of dance training and an ability to articulate myself is tantamount to wearing leather pants and growing a handlebar moustache.

“Dude, it’s your hair” said my brother, “it’s just kinda happier than other hair”.

I thought this was a ridiculous theory but as my hair has slowly disappeared from my scalp, my arse doesn’t get pinched quite so often. So I had gay hair. Which, ironically, my arse paid for.

This balance of liking and being liked by various gay elements of society seems to have affected my gaydar. I’m fairly good with men, which doesn’t help me, but suck at women, which really doesn’t help me. ‘Are you a lesbian’ is not a great ice-breaker – trust me.

I’m told that the upside is that such ‘depth of character’ gives me the appearance of sophistication. Women really like sophisticated, articulate men who can dance. This, I’ve discovered, is because such men are engaging, graceful and non-threatening.

Because they’re gay.

People wonder why I don’t go out much.

Profit & Loss

Disclaimer: this is a far longer and more personal entry than my normal. I apologise should boredom and my personal reflections permanently lower your I.Q. Though I invite you to play games of intellectual challenge with me afterward.

ps. Though it ends on an unhappy note, it really isn’t the case. Just in case you worry. 

I came to Cornwall, England for the wedding of one of my oldest friends, Nicolette. I had been all psyched up to watch this excellent event but instead I found myself sitting in the church, just minutes before the ceremony was to begin, baffled to find myself on the edge of some sort of anxiety attack. Being surrounded by people I didn’t know, about to watch Nicolette, someone I love but am no longer as close to as I once was, get married, was having an undeniably deep and unexpected effect on me.

Nicolette is very smart. Very, very smart. Undoubtedly one of the 2 or 3 smartest people I’ve ever known. That she has stayed friends with me over the years has always made me feel validated intellectually (not an overly healthy thing but true nonetheless). But as I looked around the church at all her other friends, gathered from an excellent life, spread over many countries and cultures, I was struck, almost physically, by their obvious success. The clothes, the poise, the easily exuded confidence and free flowing charm; all these people were better than me. How on earth was I going to survive the reception where I’d have to reveal my pedestrian self in actual conversation? Will I be able to cloak myself in false success and pseudo happiness for long enough to escape the predation of social inequality and the piteous bullets it would execute me with?

I really wanted to go home. All the way home. I wanted to go home like I was 5 and had just peed my pants, urged away from the other children by the knowledge that they hadn’t noticed the wet stain on my trousers yet, and panicked by the coming shame of their judgment.

I hadn’t felt like this in years, suffered under the wave of such self-absorbed insecurity since I was a teenager.

Too many people.

I stood up and moved from the crowded central pews out to the peripheral seats where I could slip more comfortably into the self-defensive, familiar and calming position of outsiderness. I breathed deeply trying to reach stillness and calm, trying to banish these panicked and unbecoming thoughts from my head.

Then the music began. Bach. Played by a quartet (3 violins and a cello) there in the church. I love Bach’s violin and cello concertos – Nick herself introduced me to them – the precision and beauty entrances and lifts me whenever I hear it. I closed my eyes and let the music flow over me and build a space of quietness around me. As my heart rate lowered and the music changed to ‘concerto grosso op 6 no 8 in g minor’ by Corelli, Nicolette, wrapped in a cloud gray dress and looking beautiful, entered the church and began her walk to the altar.

Years ago Nicolette and I had agreed to a ‘Back Up Plan’. A plan that was based on a sad suspicion on both our parts, that being that we may be those rare and lonely creatures who never found ‘the one’, who would enter the later stages of our lives alone, as some people just seem to do. There was a conceit to it, I think, the thought of ourselves as distinctive yet difficult, of high caliber but cantankerous. The details of the plan were that between 35 and 40, were we unmarried, we would wed for personal comfort and to put our respective parents minds at ease. This silly-sad yet enjoyable covenant, based on the idea that life starts ticking at 35 and explodes at 40, also conveniently masked a crush (there’s a lack of a middle word describing that feeling) I’d had on Nicolette since I’d met her when I was 17, until somewhere in my mid to late 20s. It wasn’t of those all consuming crushes that dictate action and consequence, it was more a daydream of a crush, prompting the occasional pondering of potentials of brave or foolhardy decisions. Regardless, the gaps separating us, intellectual and then geographic, dictated a platonic relationship, one I’ve benefited from and enjoyed immensely over the years.

All this easily fades into the past, where it has always belonged, as Nicolette draws shoulder to shoulder with her husband to be, Shaun. With these memories goes any of my remaining inner turbulence and my focus falls completely on the event in front of me.

Watching people get married, as repetitive an event as it currently is for me, is actually becoming more and more distinctive per ceremony. I used to think of it as a dead institution, if only due to the perfidious statistics thrown around by various sections of society. I currently ascribe more to the Doug Stanhope school of thought on marriage, based on the approach of if it didn’t exist, would you invent it now angle. Summarised thusly: “Aw Honey, I love you so much! A love so pure and strong it consumes me! Baby, we just gotta get the Government in on this action! I’m so hot for you, quick, call a priest and a lawyer”. Regardless of such hilarity, I really enjoyed watching Nicolette get married. There was a gravity to it that pleased me, an intake of collective breath as people watched and admired the choice, followed by a sigh of the unconsidered joy such a decision can bring. That and the following reception, where I had some really excellent discussions with some of Nick’s friends, especially an English archaeologist and German osteo-archaeologist couple who were interesting and vastly entertaining (replaying in small the football competitiveness that draws on the greater Anglo-German grand get-togethers of last century).

It was, over all, an excellent wedding and engaging reception, all taking place at a stunning venue in the Cornish countryside. With all that splendor of place and person around me the contrast of fear and anxiety I felt keeps drawing me back, demanding consideration and explanation. I’m not used to such things creeping up on me suddenly, I usually feel a slow build inside me, prompting introspection of at least a shallow sort, thus defusing those sorts of grand mal. It’s really only in the light of time that I realize that it had been sneaking up on me. I think back to the ‘Back Up Plan’ I shared with Nick and the sense of loss her marriage represents to me. The ceremony brings back that memory, the ‘Back Up Plan’, based on a strange conviction, almost a conceit, one now strangely amplified, distilled by the intervening years, maybe. It’s a lonely thought brought on by that almost unrealized sense of loss, a thought based in an old fear that has become, horrifically, more relevant to me years later as my partner in future solitude abandons me here. In fucking Cornwall.

Security (T)issues

I flew into Melbourne last night (I’m on my way to Europe for 4 weeks – Envy me!) and, as ever, on a clear night, Melbourne is a wonderful city to see from above; such a sprawling, varicose veined,  suburban light show.

Australia has obviously responded to the Swine Flu Spazdemic quite strongly. Not only was the airport swarming with Quarantine Officers scanning for those afflicted with sniffles (God help you if you coughed) but you actually have to fill out a Health Declaration Form along with that immigration form thing before you can come into the country. This form has such questions as, Are You A Bit Sick?, Have You Pashed A Member Of The Porcine Family Recently? and, most cleverly, If You Had Frenched A Pig, Would You Actually Tell Us? Also, various announcements were made by the cabin crew during the flight, urging us, if we had suffered from a slight fever, or knew someone who did, just let a flight attendant know, implying,  in kindly tone, that if that were the case they would kindly bring us a tissue. Obviously two people did as, I shit you not, Quarantine Officers came on board once we had landed, masked and gloved like Michael Jackson (with fewer spangles but same sickly pallor), and took two people away. I saw one of them later at the baggage carousel but I know not of the other’s fate.

On a lighter note, the film on the plane was ‘He’s Just Not That Into You…’ and it was awful. Really, really awful. It played on so many gender and relationship cliches and stereotypes that it’s ridiculous message became hopelessly convoluted. Ironically, I really liked Ben Affleck in his role. That was a new experience. It also had Jennifer Connelly in it, which is just one of the insufficient and stupid reasons I watched the whole thing (call it a boyish Labyrinth hangover). To a young man or woman, seeking to understand how to best relate and communicate with the opposite sex, watching porn would be less destructive to your future potential for happiness than watching this film.