Not at ALL What You Thought

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"The Heart Wants What it Wants"

I was talkin one of my former students into reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and after I'd told him a little about it to whet his appetite, his eyes brightened and he asked, "Have you seen What Dreams May Come?" I hadn't (though I own the DVD). So we struck a deal: he'd read AG if I watched WDMC. (Former Student swore the parts about Hell wouldn't be really scary.)

Took both of us a while to get on with our several parts of the deal, and he even started reading before I'd found the johnbrown DVD. But I finally watched the thang. While I was tryin to get into it, one of my gfs called to give me an update on her day, and I mentioned that I was tryin to watch this movie. "I hated that stupid movie," she said. Apparently, she and her husband saw it when it first came out, in a movie theatre, with a huge group of friends in Maryland, and (as you've just read) they hated it.

"Well, lemme see what I think about it," I said, and gf rang off. Actually, I thought it was a sweet little movie, though ignorant. Or disingenuous. And when I told gf that, she said, "Well, you have a right to your opinion, but don't expect me to go to hell for you. I remember tellin S [her husband], 'Don't believe the hype. I ain goin to hell for you,'" she laughed.

"Ah, it's a movie about love. All it means is 'If you need me, I'll do everything I can for you. Because I love you.'"

"Yeah, but I ain goin to hell for you."

"Hey, it ain like I believe in the stuff I saw in that movie, but Jesus did it. He went."

"Exactly. He already did it, so why should I have to?"

"Well, it's a story. I like stories." Gf gave me the verbal equivalent of a shrug and we hung up.

Thing is, this is a movie, though full of mythological elements, that is not about religion. It's about the omnipotence of love, a favorite H'wood theme I've had a lot of philosophical trouble with since I became a grownup. Because, in most H'wood stories, this omnipotent love is eros, or even epithumia, not, say, phileo, or even storge (although, of course, I've seen movies about the omnipotence of a mother's love, too).

Years ago, it occurred to me that we love family members, not because they are so sterling of character or because they have done so much for us, but because our culture tells us we should, nay, we must. (That very truth, rat thayah, is the reason so many people are in therapy and/or on medication in America rat nah.

In my opinion.)

And while our culture teaches that we must love our family members (why? because they're our family members), it simultaneously tells us that we have no control over the feelings we have for other, extra-familial people. We're supposed to love Mama, Daddy, Sis and Bruh, but not necessarily our spouses (for example). Them we're allowed to fall in and out of love with. In fact, it's completely understandable, also, to fall in and out of love with other people's spouses. Well, not understandable, exactly, but certainly excusable. Why? Because we have no control over whom we love. Love is something that just happens to us. We fall in love, like it's a hole we couldn't possibly have seen, no matter how well we pay attention when we walk around in this life. Unless it's family, of course, in which case, we make up our minds that we're gonna love each other till death.

Doesn't make sense to me anymore.

I mean, if I can make up my mind, be obedient to to my mama and love my sister and brothers, respect my mama until I die and honor my daddy my whole life long, then don't I have some responsibility about how I feel for other people?

I've begun to think I do. So for the past decade or more, I've been deciding that I would take responsibility for the way I feel about other people. If I say I hate somebody, I say it with the decision that this is how I've made up my mind to feel. Same with love. Or "falling in love." If I become attracted to a man, I do it with the quality decision to be honest, to admit to myself on the regular, that I'm behaving a certain way towards a man deliberately --either acting on that attraction or not acting on it. I'm a grown woman. I have a graduate-school degree. I am more or less sane. I have a say in my own destiny, johnbrownit.

So (for example) when I look back on the beginnings of my relationship with the man I eventually (and unfortunately) married, I deliberately remember talking him into kissing me for the first time. You're right: at the time, I didn't have to talk long or hard. But, honey, as horny and predatory as I want to remember him back then, I was just as much in control of the situation. I made the kiss suggestion. And when he just barely, perfunctorily kissed me in response, I make myself remember that I told him I wanted another. That (not, for example, his quality decision, years later, to work against our marriage, not for it) was the true beginning of the end. Because I knew then, had known for a while, that the man had a girlfriend and a son. What difference does it make that, when I asked him, "Do you love her?" he responded, "No"?

I didn't have to ask, you know.

Some a y'all are gonna say, "Stop bein so hard on yourself." But I'm not, really. I'm just tellin y'all the truth, as I see it. As I look back on our relationship, I see several places where I made decisions for that disaster I used to call "my marriage" in spite of all good advice, my graduate-school-bolstered intuition, and actual facts against every one of those decisions. Because, in the very beginning, I had chosen to love that man. And if things had gone differently, I believe I still would be lovin that man.

I seem to have gotten away from the johnbrown movie. Let's go back. It's about the omnipotence of love, I said; it suggests that if there is a hell, true love will make you leave heaven to rescue the person you love from hell. If you are true soul mates, then you cannot live without each other; you will choose to live in hell if your true soul mate can't leave hell. In Shyamalan's movie The Village, William Hurt's character says, "The world stands in awe of love. It bows down to it." (It is love, after all, that sends Bryce Dallas Howard's character Into The Woods. But it is also a kind of love, after all, that creates the crisis that makes her feel she has to go.)

Well, in movies, it certainly does. In real life, the world actually stands in awe of the mere claim to falling in love. If you love her, it doesn't matter that she's married; you have to follow your heart. You just have to. All the movies and fairy tales and other stories say so. Ain no way around it. You have no control over it. Let yourself off the hook. Who's to say you aren't True Soul Mates? What if he's with the wrong woman? You love who you love. Go for it.

Except, I, for one, ain goin for that particular fairy tale anymore.


  • At 3:17 PM , Blogger Christina said...

    Amen, Amen, a thousand times AMEN!


    What you said!

  • At 8:09 PM , Blogger Elayne said...

    That very truth, rat thayah, is the reason so many people are in therapy and/or on medication in America rat nah.

    In my opinion.


    But I wonder what it says about my potential for future relationships that I have decided it is not necessary for me to live by that "family is forever" mindset. (I'll be civil and all, not making any Scenes about anything, but I'm not going to lie to myself about how I really feel.)

  • At 8:03 AM , Blogger Gine said...

    It says that you're CONSISTENT, at least.



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