Is what we call love really love?


Words are so shifty. Take love, for instance, one of those vastly overused words. It gets flung around without much thought. Some end their email messages to strangers with the word. Others can’t end a phone call without saying love you when that isn’t necessarily what they are feeling at the moment or when they mean see you later. The word often becomes disconnected from its true meaning, though even that designation is in question. I don’t necessarily feel deeply affectionate towards a friend in an email, especially if the contents have nothing to do with personal feelings, so I wouldn’t sign it “love.” Nor would I sign it affectionately unless it fit the communication.

I think often what we mean when we use “love” is the opposite. Many people seem allergic to the word hate and refuse to let themselves have such negative emotions. But it’s perfectly normal to hate someone at times that we might otherwise love. Or maybe we don’t love that person at all and never will. (I’ll never be capable of loving Donald Trump!) It’s still okay to hate him/her. Yes, it could be that the person we hate has some dark quality that we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves and we’re projecting it onto him/her. But we’ll never discover what it is if we don’t first allow ourselves to feel it.

I’m reminded of a therapist I worked with once who was very manipulative and new agey. Rather than let me feel and express anger about certain individuals, she believed I needed to let go of my anger and feel more compassion instead. I think compassion can be important, but not as a replacement for the anger I was experiencing. I needed to acknowledge and accept that response before being ready to move on to compassion. Yet I also think there’s something patronizing about claiming to feel compassion towards another person. It’s as if I’m gracing him/her with my human charity.

But what do we mean when we say we love someone? There is familial love that seems reserved for family members. We assume that because we were born into a particular family that we automatically should love all its members. But doesn’t someone need to exhibit lovable qualities to earn our love? Do we love family members who aren’t lovable, who push us away in multiple ways, who are hostile to us? Maybe love is the correct word here if it means that we continue to support or interact with a family member in spite of his/her failings. Yet is the glue that binds us together in families really love or something else. Necessity? Clan loyalties? Other motivations?cupid copy

What about with friends? I’ve found that in my friendships, love was something that developed between the other and myself over time. It wasn’t an instant emotion, except perhaps in early romantic love when the other captured something important about myself that I had projected onto him.

Eros, the god of love, and his arrows, can create terrible situations for us. He can cause us to fall into traps that don’t have anything to do with love. It can be more connected to our own narcissistic needs. What are the ties that bind us together?

I’m still exploring them and will offer some answers in a future blog.



Words! Words! Words!

I’ve been thinking about how loosely we use abstract words like love, happiness, and truth as if they had concrete, observable meaning. I tend to revolt from using love to close my email or other exchanges unless I really feel love for the person I’m corresponding with. It bothers me when people sign their correspondence “love” without considering whether or not the emotion really applies to the recipient. Maybe you feel loving towards someone on most days, but not every day. Isn’t it deceitful to say “love” if you aren’t feeling it at the moment? Wouldn’t such a response seem confusing? It leads the reader to believe that the writer actually has such strong feelings, that somehow we’re part of the writer’s inner circle. Often that isn’t true.

Or even if one is part of the writer’s inner circle, it doesn’t mean that person actually is feeling love for the recipient. It just becomes a reflexive action: Love, Lily. Love, Hilda. Love, Anyone.

My concern is that these words then become meaningless, and once words no longer match what they are supposed to express, there’s not only a breakdown in communication but also a collapse of the word’s integrity. How can one use the word love again with any sincerity if it’s been used casually, with people one doesn’t really feel loving toward.

So what’s my problem with happiness? We have a tendency to assume that if we use happy to describe someone’s feelings, we’ve said it all. That person must be happy. Therefore, there’s no need to look further or question what might actually be going on. Happiness is a nebulous state. I’m never sure when I’m happy or not because there are so many varieties of that emotional construct. One person’s happiness could be another person’s delusion or manic behavior.

When someone is really high, either from drugs or because something positive has happened in that person’s life, we generally say “that person is so happy.” Yet the individual may be in a state that has nothing to do with what I might equate with happiness—a sense of well being: all is right with my world at the moment and I need nothing else to make myself feel better. But the person we describe as “so happy” because he/she is claiming that condition could be depressed and using happiness as a cover for his/her real emotional level.

Okay, I sound like a Grinch, but I hate lies, either intentional or unintentional. I make them. My friends make them. It seems part of being human to lie at times. But the more it happens between friends and myself, the less I trust either them or me. And that’s the truth. But, again, what is truth? And how do we know it when it happens? If someone is accustomed to not telling the truth, then we’re caught up again in that dishonest web of deceit, where we claim one thing while really feeling another.


Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.

Writing for Love Or Money

“Writing is like prostitution.  First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money.”  —Moliere

I’ve been struggling with this idea of writing for money.  Moliere suggests writers are prostituting themselves if they write for money, so  when I read this quote, I felt a twinge, as if I might be damaging myself in some way, exploiting myself, or misusing a talent.  Unfortunately, the writing that satisfies me the most isn’t lucrative—poetry, fiction.  In these areas, if money is the main motivation then I’m not going to write as I need to; I’ll be writing for an audience primarily, not for what is bubbling up in my unconscious and seeking imaginative expression.  I don’t feel that way when I write articles and essays, genres that can pay.

The word prostitution seems key here.  Most of us think of a prostitute as someone who sells her/his body for money—who uses something intimate and vulnerable in order to live.  What relationship does the body have, though, to writing, to words?  Beckett may have the answer.  He says, “Words are all we have.”   In a way, our bodies are all we have, though I’m not sure we even have them, and words are as connected to us as our skin is to our frames.  Words not only are all we have but, as Orwell understood so well, language forms us—informs us.

Does prostitution need to have a negative connotation?  Couldn’t one have sex for money not just to exploit the body but to share it, to get close to another’s body, to have something vital to give, sex being the only way to give it?  (I’m thinking of Moll Flanders, that wonderful 18th Century character, a prostitute if you like, but what a prostitute!)

Or maybe what Moliere means is that like a prostitute, a writer has something to give that is intimately related to his/her self.  The problem might arise in our attitude to our body or ourselves and our customers.   If we are doing it, sex or writing, only to exploit, only for money, then the behavior could be damaging.  But if we approach this process consciously, we might not only do our best work, we also may stay more true to ourselves.   It needn’t be an either/or proposition, as Moliere makes it sound, but both/and—not love or money, but love and money.