Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine poems: an arrow through the heart

Valentine, O, Valentine / I'll be your love and you'll be mine,
We'll care for each other, rain or fine / and in 90 years we'll be 99.
-Ian Serraillier

If you won't be my Valentine / I'll scream, I'll yell, I'll bite.
I'll cry aloud, I'll start to whine / If you won't be my Valentine.
-Myra Cohn Livingston

Plenty of Love / Tons of kisses
Hope some day / To be your Mrs.
-Author Unknown

My love is like a cabbage / Divided into two
The leaves I give to others / The heart I give to you.
-Author Unknown

Valentines is near / Just wishing you were here
You will always be near / My heart will never be the same
-Jose Villalpando

Are we friends, Are we not / You told me once, but I forgot.
So tell me now and tell me true / So I can say I'm here with you.
-Author Unknown

Raindrops on our dresses / Sunshine on our face,
No matter what the weather / The look of love won't be replaced.
-Donna Wallace

I was lonely, sad, and blue / until the day that I meet you.
You came into my life and changed it around / turned my frown upside down.
-Author Unknown

To see my darling on his special day / Would put two Valentine wishes at bay.
Happy Birthday to him is the Valentine for me / Then two hearts once again get to share ecstasy.
-Lisa D. Myers

Someone asked me to name the time / Of when our love became sublime.
I searched high and low but could not find / It within the vast regions of my mind.
So now as I close it is time / Would please be my Valentine.
-Author Unknown

There's nothing in this world / That can express my love
You're as beautiful as an angel / And pure as a dove.
-Osman Espinoza

I searched high and low (as in one of the poems, above) to find Valentine poetry that is not terrifically bad (some of it is gross or obscene, which just does not do it for me), but truly mediocre. This is poetry with good intentions, poetry that doesn't KNOW it's bad. It's the Stairway to Stardom of Valentine verse, not quite rhyming, not quite NOT rhyming, with meter (if there is any) that is all over the place.

This collection appeared along with snippets by Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker ("one perfect rose"), which of course had to go. Some of these are by "known" writers, even known poets, which amazes me. The Florence Foster Jenkins of verse, perhaps?

I remember my crazy brother Arthur and I having a bad poetry contest which we called Peotry Korner. "Hey, that's spelled wrong!" one of our friends exclaimed. We were so dumb, and he needed to point that out! I think I may have won the contest with this:

"When skies R grey
and it precipitates
You remind me
of a load of wet hay.
Happy Doomsday!
Glad you're not here."

I was briefly part of a truly hair-raising "writer's group" called Women and Words, in which the main goal seemed to be not writing by a variety of means. We drank sangria, we talked about our kids and household products, and then someone came up with an idea for fundraising: not an anthology of our writing, but a COOKBOOK! I noticed the group had a "poetry expert", a little old lady with her hair in a bun and a print dress, as if someone had rocketed back in time to the 1950s to collect her. "Doris is our poetry expert," someone said, and Doris colored, saying, "Oh no no no no no."

Several times I heard statements from people like, "I just can't stand all that modern poetry. It doesn't even rhyme." Sooner or later someone had to get up to recite. The poems were not unlike the examples above (and I'm sorry I'm sounding so mean - I know I am - but this was just so frustrating for me, as I'd had high hopes for the group helping to dig me out of the landslide of loneliness I was trapped in).

"Oh mighty eagle who flies so high in the sky
Every time I see you I wonder why
Why you lift your wings and fly so high
Oh mighty eagle who flies so high in the sky"

The standard response to a poetry reading was, to a person, "Oh that's LOVE-ly!". I wondered if that really passed for a critique. By this time I was afraid to get up and read my own self-absorbed laments, most written in abstract form.  I just now realized that a version of this gathering found its way into my first novel, Better than Life, in which a Christlike, charismatic stranger named Bob attempts to initiate the good ladies of Harman into the mysteries of Yeats and Kahlil Gibran.

I went to two sessions of this group, and at the second one it looked as if we had attracted some actual writers (and one of the ladies outright admitted, "Oh, I don't really do any writing, I just come along for the social part"). One fiercely beautiful black woman got up and cast webs of fire over the room, after which there was dead silence.

"Well," said the old lady expert.

"Keep working on it," said Bev, the unofficial matriarch (unofficial, my ass - everything she said was law!). The writer looked distinctly uncomfortable. Another writer had built the substructure for a play, showing a definite talent for discernment - what doesn't need to be there, in other words - thus constructing the foundation for a major work.

Not much comment there, either.

At a certain point, when I made the embarrassing admission I'd written a novel (a truly bad novel, though at the time I thought it was pretty good), someone exclaimed, "Oh, are you Margaret Gunn?" I wanted to say "ING". I had a weekly column in the local paper then, but it seemed she had only managed to read half of it. Another woman asked me, "What's the conflict?", something straight out of Writers Group 101. Obviously, it was the thing to say, the question to ask to show that you understood, that you Knew. I still don't know what it meant.

Oh, but I do remember one actual exercise - we were supposed to take a pen and paper and write down the name of our character, then write down EVERYTHING we could think of about them. There was even a questionnaire. Where they were born, when they were born, who their parents were, what they looked like, their shoe size, and blah blah blah blah blah. It was only later that I realized that trudging through writing a novel would be intolerable if you already knew everything. It's the finding out that is the thing. And if it doesn't interest you - fascinate you, in fact - then it sure as hell will not interest the reader.

Where is all this coming from? There's nothing wrong with drinking sangria and exclaiming "oh, that's lovely!" after every poem. But in a way, "writer's group" is a contradiction in terms. In my experience, giving yourself to the process is often horrendously lonely, to the point that I understand why so many poets commit suicide.

I don't know why I've done this for so many years, except that I'm not good at anything else. No, I mean it, or at least not anything I can do professionally. I haven't had anyone refer to my work as a "nice hobby" for a while now, maybe because they've given up talking to me altogether.

People fall away. They lose interest, or find they can't do it, bury their ambition where it festers and ruins their lives. I become sick of halting myself, to keep pace with their faux interest/dedication. They just stop, or they make themselves stop. I had a friend exclaim, when I made a friendly suggestion that she try keeping a blog, "What would I write about?" But it was her facial expression that cut me: baffled, as if I'd said "why don't you start a worm farm"; offended, as if I'd said "why don't you have an affair with your neighbor"; disgusted, as if I'd said "why don't you shovel shit for a living." And even at that, there was an aspect to her reaction that I can't describe, a mouthful of vinegar or something else awful, with her tone of voice full of "whaaaaat?" Not just incredulous, but ferociously judgemental. It was casting her own insecurity and frustrated ambition back in my face, not unlike the cobra-strike ploys used by my sister for years and years.

I had obviously said the wrong thing. But she had no idea why her reaction bothered me, which was even worse. That friendship died in a torrent of bile which made me realize her ambition had long ago been interred and was sending up noxious fumes of decay.

OK, I never expected to go on and on like this. Are there "real" writers" then, to be divided from the dabblers like the sheep from the goats? YES. Does this have anything to do with money or prestige or even getting widely published and becoming some sort of quasi-celebrity like that bitch who wrote Fifty Shades? Of course not.

It has to do with dedication, but it's something else. Painful as all this is, you can't live without it. I find I replicate my initial experiences of utter obscurity again and again, and the chances of this changing at my age are extremely slim. But I've come to realize that if I needed recognition, I would have quit long ago. Keeping on with it at this level of intensity would have been impossible. So it's something else that drives me, and, I suspect, almost every other writer.

I don't always like what I do. It's kind of like being married. Habit? Not quite. Just a need, something I can't describe or even get away from. It galloped away with me a very long time ago.

A long long long time ago when I was seeing a therapist, I was also listening (incessantly) to k. d. lang's brilliant Ingenue album (which I have started listening to again). I was talking to her about a certain song, how I felt it was much more than a love song.

"Why do you say that?"

I wasn't sure what I was saying.

"I think it's about her work. You know. . . not so much the singing as the writing."

I often wonder
is it so
All I am holding
wants let go
How could I manage
I don't know

I often question
Is it so
Life's contradictions
tend to grow
Spawning the choices
and the woe

But still somehow thrives this love
Which I pray I'm worthy of
Still somehow thrives this love

I often wonder
Is it so
Lessons of patience
are learned slow
Earnings of labour
may never show

But still somehow thrives this love
Which I pray I'm worthy of
Still somehow thrives this love

k. d. lang

Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

Fifty Shades: let's bring back perversion!

Most of what happened to me in my childhood happened in the den.

We called it the “den”, not the “TV room” or “family room” (the inference being it can't be a family room without at least one TV), for reasons unknown, except that maybe in the ‘60s, that was what you called it.

It had a pullout sofa-bed, a black-and-white TV, an ancient ironwork-sided sewing machine, and an “imprinting machine” (my Mum did imprinting, personalizing leather goods and even pencils for my Dad’s stationery store) with drawers full of magical gold foil that I was forever tampering with.

But most of all, it had books. Seemingly thousands of them, I always thought, though I now remember just one solid wall, and another with (? Did I transpose this from my older siblings’ ever-changing university digs?) brick-and-board bookcases.

Lots of these were in German. My sister studied German in university for reasons that are now a complete mystery to me. Why? There was not even the remotest connection in any part of our family to Germany, and yet she wrote her Master’s thesis, in German, on The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

I would often hear the wailings of Lotte Lenya on the stereo when I came home from school, which was very embarrassing when I brought a friend home. But I digress. In those brick-and-board bookcases, there was Goethe, there was Schiller, and there was a feeling I was just supposed to accept this as “normal”, because my sister (13 years older than me) said it was.

To my 10-year-old delight, there were a few dirty books (hers, I assume) strewn amongst the dull novels in the den:  A Rage to Live by John O’Hara (“oh, darling, you’re in me and I’m all around you, just in time, time, tme”), Sons and Lovers (“I will always remember that evening when the peewits called”), and even Cocksure, a mildly gamey book by Mordecai Richler, which thrilled me because it had the word “bastard” in it.  All this mulled around and around in my mind. I was beginning to formulate, or even come up with a formula, for what sex meant.

It surely meant simultaneous orgasm. If you had anything else, it was dirty and even frightening, and definitely “wrong”. You were not normal. This was especially true if you were married.

It meant forbiddenness. It meant crossing barriers of class, power and station (Lady Chatterley’s Lover). This was definitely stuff I wasn’t supposed to be seeing.

Then I discovered it, nestled dustily right against the volumes and volumes of Goethe and Schiller: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SIGMUND FREUD!

Now I was off to the races.

Now I learned. I learned about penis envy. I learned about polymorphous perversity. I learned that women were inferior beings. I learned about latent homosexuality. I learned about vaginal orgasm. I learned.

I learned about stuff, then believed to be crucial to understanding human nature, that is now so dusty and obsolete that nobody even thinks about it any more, let alone talks about it. When you think about it, it is remarkable that so many people accepted without question theories that had never been proven clinically, or any other way. It was simply the truth.

The one hangover now is “anal”, which means, I don’t know, uptight or something. It did to Freud, too. An anal personality, anal retentive. Holding in your poo for some reason, though I couldn’t tell why, maybe because you were constipated or couldn’t get to the bathroom.

These were the golden days. These were the days of “perversion”. Do you remember perversion? Back then, anything that wasn’t simultaneous orgasm in the marriage bed was perversion.

Homosexuality was the result of a domineering mother and a weak father. Nobody questioned this. It was the only thing I ever heard about the matter, except for the expressions “limp-wristed” and “pansy”.

There was still a moral taint on it, the shadow of illegality that broke the spirit of Oscar Wilde. There was a sense that it was a sort of blight, that it was impossible to “correct”, and that the sufferer just had to abstain (I mean, forever) and conceal it completely to be socially acceptable.

So. Homosexuality was a mental illness or even a “perversion”. These attitudes, we now see, were groaningly wrong and must have caused immeasurable grief to thousands of people.

I didn’t know about a lot of other things, extreme things such as whips and chains.  I didn’t really know until tomorrow (oops, that’s the future, so I’d have to know in advance) when this Fifty Shades of Grey movie comes out. (Note: this was written on February 12. Confusing.)

ANY kind of inflicting of pain or punishment on another person was, in my backward day and with my den mentality, seen as sadism, and therefore “perversion”. It stood to reason, in my mind. Being turned on by experiencing pain, or (worse) inflicting pain was so twisted that I could not understand it at all. But it has changed, and drastically, in a fairly short period of time. At this point in our social evolution, it’s quite OK so long as the other person, the masochist, “gives consent”.

This happened with Jian Ghomeshi, remember? All his girl friends “gave consent”, so in an official sense, it was all OK.

Except that they didn’t. And it wasn’t.

“You can’t give consent if you are abused,” a very smart person I know (an award-winning news reporter) told me. Therefore, the woman who had been pounded to a bruised pulp and had her ribs broken by Ghomeshi hadn’t “consented”, because if someone beats the living shit out of you and breaks your bones, your abuser cannot use the legal excuse that you “gave consent”. Even if you did, it's null and void, because presumably you didn't know in advance that you would be brutally crushed.

Or maybe it's not. We’ll find out, won’t we?

The BDSM “community” insists that the receiver knows exactly what he or she is in for, wants it, and can get out of it any time, with a signal of some kind. But it seems to me that sadism is something that can be awfully hard to manage. Doesn’t it sometimes, just sometimes, go over the edge? By its very nature, I think that the possibility of loss of control might be part of the thrill.

And what of a person who “consents” but is deeply masochistic and profoundly self-hating? I’ve heard of “rough trade”, though I don’t know much about it, and I will confess that I don’t want to. Brian Epstein used to be found beaten, bloody and unconscious after such encounters. Was this  “OK” because he had given consent? Or did he, in the first place? 

(And if everybody's drunk or stoned and out of control, what does THAT add to the mix? It isn't fashionable to ask these things, but I ask them now.)

Such a person (a victim in my view), and I am only putting this out as a possibility, might WANT to be very badly hurt, even killed. Moreover, it might not be good for them to get what they want, because it’s too dangerous and they are too psychologically sick. I can hear the screams of protest right now: wait a minute, that’s impossible! It can't go too far as long as everyone's cool about the "rules". But in the wild and woolly world of human sexuality, is anything truly impossible?

Ghomeshi could argue that she wanted it, even told him it was OK. I don’t know what was going on there. If his unknown victim (the one with the bruises and broken ribs) claims it WAS consensual, then we’re really in a mess, aren’t we? Caught in a legal and sexual murkiness that we may never straighten out.

I have hardly touched on this Fifty Shades phenomenon, but I see that some women’s groups are protesting that it glorifies domestic violence. But hey! Violence is OK (or, at least, playing at violence is OK), even exciting, if you give your consent. Isn't it?  How about if you have a domineering husband who keeps threatening to leave and pull his financial support out from under you and your children? Might you be more likely to “consent” in this situation? You’d probably do anything to save your children, not to mention your life.

“It was just a sex game gone wrong.” Yes. I know this has been used before. “She wanted it, she asked for it.” What does that mean? How often do sexual and gender boundaries get blurred and confused? How about financial/power boundaries? (Christian in Fifty Shades certainly fits the rich and powerful profile.) How many ways can one human being make another human being submit, and how is this so different from slavery? (Master-slave language is very much a part of the “lifestyle”, making me wonder what black people think of it.)

I have not heard the word “perversion” in so long, I don’t know where it went. Does it even exist now, does the concept exist? I know that certain Christian fundamentalists seem to think that if people are “allowed” to be gay, it will open the floodgates to having sex with horses: an “anything goes” philosophy.

That’s horse’s-ass stuff, but I will say, I wonder where all this is taking us. Even playing at inflicting pain alarms me: why would anyone need to do it, unless they were, in some way, sexually perverted? Hurting someone is wrong. Wrong. Isn't it?

But no, now it’s stylish, and it’s certainly popular. I just found out that the original Fifty Shades trilogy started out as Twilight  “fan fiction’. With all its supposed restrictions on content, if fan fiction has become this sexually extreme, I honestly have to wonder what will come next. I wonder what will become of human boundaries, if there are any, and what will happen to the nature of something we still insist on calling “making love”.

  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!