On Love, Eternal Truths, and the Personal Risks of Writing

Having a blog is a hybridised form, lying somewhere between having a personal diary and a personal media platform. Of course you forego the privacy of the first for the publicity and — still relatively modest — public penetration of the last, and you take all sorts of risks involved with making content available online. But rather more apparent (and punitive) forms of retaliation aside, the blogger/writer/content purveyor faces a few personal risks of which I’ve found mention is required.

But first, a sojourn in lovecountry.

I’ve had a reliable record of blog-posts that are essentially reflections on life as well as travel-writing-esque in their meticulous, savant-like recounting of daily happenings and bizarre encounters, albeit (like all travel writers) with a small, forgivable embellishment. Travel writers do tend to fall prey to beautifying their scenery, their events, their dialogue and pace. But for the enjoyment you derive of vicariously walking in their footpath, and the lessons you might divine from their experience, you forgive them their offenses against truth. At least, this is what I’ve learnt, both from my (comparatively) decidedly paltry experience, and what I’ve read from and about travel writers themselves. Anyway, these blog-posts I reference usually have the convenient titles of: “Of Something, Something, and Something-something,” where every something is a concept, an idea, a feeling, a person, something; hints intended to entice further reading, and the difference of which implies having discovered a certain revelatory connection between things.

Like this post and its title.

These posts also perform the self-serving function of being the closest things to journal entries I’ve consistently written; what they lack in privacy they make up for in length (I tend to make them long) and triggering conversation: when anyone can read your “journal entries”, they will probably tell you about it, and they might even relate it to their own experience. In this way, your writing does what reading other people’s writing is supposed to do: offer you a different perspective. A different view of a different life from different eyes. A different story.

Anyway, when I sat to write this post I didn’t have any of this in mind, and actually intended to write about the different ways that love changes you. The most immediate of these changes is that songs and love poems become yours through sentimental appropriation. I could swear that a thousand people have (like me) considered the “I’ll always be waiting for you” at the end of Coldplay’s Shiver to be the most perfectly appropriate and profoundly correct expression of their thoughts as people in love. But this is the least significant of my findings, if the most touching.

I’ve also discovered that having feelings for someone and not telling them is actually a lot easier than telling them, and in some situations (I’ve learnt) the simple act of professing love becomes so mired in possible fucking-things-up (technical term) that, for fear of said damaging of the relationship, you keep quiet. I used to ignorantly think that if people had enough courage, they’d be able to profess their love every time. And that might be true. But what I didn’t know and what has revealed itself recently is that sometimes it has little to do with courage and everything to do with courageous discretion. The courage, then, is of a more latent kind, a kind that doesn’t flaunt itself and brandish a pocket-knife; a kind that keep quiet and retracts into silence, doesn’t get noticed, but is perhaps the most important and necessary. It is like the thankless, unsung heroes of life whose operation isn’t hindered by lack of recognition.

Perhaps to justify this kind of unappreciated resoluteness to herself, my mother would say (translation from Arabic): “Do good and throw it in the sea.” She’d say this in the knowing tones of an Egyptian mother reciting her a token of inherited proverb, worldly and suffused with bitterness. I catch myself repeating these sayings now, and wondering about the circumstances that forcibly attached them to my mother’s memory, and her mother, and so forth; the concessions to hardships they had to make with every “Good you do, bad you receive” or “We thought he was Moses, turns out he was Pharaoh.” Which isn’t to say that I absolutely believe in these proverbs, or that anyone should. Sayings are fallible like anything else and often even reinforce incorrect stereotypes. I recognise that. But I recognise their subjective truths just as much.

Another thing I’ve discovered about love is that it isn’t as clear-cut and easily understandable as we’d expect, or as we’ve been led to believe. Love isn’t a single seismic shift in consciousness and doesn’t feel like a switch turning. Love is creeping and silent, like a thief who steals only a small amount at a time so that, by the time you realise his presence, it has already stolen a lot. But the thief had always been there, tirelessly working in careful increments. Maybe that’s why they call it “falling” in love. And maybe it’s also the secret of love’s enduring mystery, of the enduring of love itself, and the reason why we plough the idea of it so endlessly in art. It affects us all so differently and so unclearly while the remaining under the umbrella-term of “love.”

Love is a drug, but an unreliable one. Because we’ve defined drugs and described their effects, but we — as a collective humanity — have not yet defined love adequately. And perhaps we should never do that. Perhaps we should always fail at restricting love with definitions too personal and meanings too given to conjecture. Let it be the eternal truth that it is. Hitherto undefined. Known by eternally being insufficiently known.

And this delivers me to the last and, ironically, first point I tried to make in this post. The risks that writers take. Divulging sensitive information about yourself divests you of your power in the way revealing secrets robs your invulnerability. An example of this is when Nizar Qabbani, prolific poet, has been criticised around me for “revealing too much” that is “personal.” Now, the erotic persuasions of his oeuvre aside (because I deem them entirely acceptable), the other major contention of his detractors is that he reveals too much of his personal life in his writing. But also because no man is an island (and especially a man as famous as Qabbani), the personal lives of the people around him. I’m also reminded of the acerbic and fiery poem that Sylvia Plath wrote about the condition of her marriage after discovering her husband’s infidelity (Ted Hughes, also a poet). T. S. Eliot, however, didn’t do this at all: he’d lock his personal life up and away from his writing. But regardless of that, it seems poets are more often understood to write about their own lives and feelings, while we normally — and incorrectly — assume that writers of, say, fiction, distance themselves farther away from their material. From my experience in writing both, I think that’s only partly true. While poetry is typically more an instrument of illustrating feelings (love, heartbreak, et cetera), fiction draws almost the same from personal experience, if in the unconventional form of subtextual wisdoms and values held by the writer, and situations inspired from and, sometimes, copied whole into the narrative. It’s just that poetry is that much more flagrant about borrowing from life. But both borrow.

Do I think it’s acceptable? Yes. Do I think it’s desirable that involved parties feel outraged that  their secrets be bandied and utilised? No. But it’s important not to forget that the writer’s intention often isn’t to embarrass (unless it is) but to retaliate, or explicate, or just express something that otherwise would fester and grow bitter inside you. I’ve written for this purpose before and it does work. Of course it’s not a panacea and your hardship (if such exists) will still be there once you’ve finished writing, but the writing helps. It lends a measure of beauty to the ugliness that, for a moment, makes it seem like the two balance out.

So it’s necessary. But that doesn’t mean that what’s necessary is what will eventually be done. Sometimes you don’t take the self-interested option even if it is logical, even if your transgression is reasoned and necessary. Life is more complex than to be truncated to comprehension through simplistic rules. You see, that’s the relation between the items of the title: love, that eternal truth of life, along with the understanding of another of life’s eternal truths — that it is complex — is what leads you to accept, or refuse, the personal risk of writing. And that’s why if you’re reading this on the blog, it means I probably decided the risk was worth it.

If not, maybe next time.

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