Valentine’s Day

In this wry essay, Susann Hayden looks at the differences between love and romance.

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The specter of Valentine’s Day is upon us again. Woo hoo. Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays I find inequitable, cruel, and nothing akin to the feelings I can have for other people, places, and things. Christmas spirit comes every year to everyone; it’s democratic. Deep magic can happen at Christmas to the poor and disenfranchised, the lonely and the lost: just ask Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch. Anyone can be moved – even saved – by carols, twinkling lights, good cheer, and elves of all shapes and sizes.

But, Valentine’s Day is much more subjective. If you are alone, you must be inadequate somehow. If you don’t get flowers, candy, or a card, your relationship must be passionless. If you have no parents or friends or lovers, there is no enchantment for you. If you just lost someone dear to illness or violence, Valentine’s Day is invasive, at best. Must we always be expected to appreciate someone else’s happiness without feeling the absence of our own? Romance is cyclical; I get it. Tis better to have loved and lost, etc. Better luck next year. Whatever.

Maybe it is the way Valentine’s Day brings the meaning of love under the spotlight that really bugs me. I am in love and someone loves me. I love my life-sized stuffed panda – my writer’s mascot – who guards me through the lonely hours at the computer. I love Coca-Cola. My son loves me and I love him. I love lamp. Forrest Gump knows what love is; I can’t seem to get my head around it.

I used to love Valentine’s Day. Every year in elementary school, we would bring a shoe box from home and spend an afternoon decorating it with paper hearts, lace doilies, and glittery stickers the teacher spread out on a large, low circular table in our classroom. We would finish by writing our first names on our valentine mailboxes in carefully scrawled block letters. If you were an unfortunate with a first name shared by others in the class, you would have to include the first initial of your last name after your first name, guaranteeing a little less allure for your vessel. Who wants to swear undying love and a giant Reese cup to Karen L. or Ted P.?

Every year, my mailbox would overfloweth. Every year, I was surprised by the fancy, ardent valentines I got from little boys who spent the rest of the year throwing sand in my face. Even on Valentine’s Day, it was routine for a small heart-shaped Whitman Sampler box from the drugstore to be whipped at my head by some little caveman in our homeroom. I was always stunned, but never very flattered. Even then, I had a cold heart to the random acts of love violence from little men. I never once got excited to make a valentine for a boy; I was much more excited about carefully opening the box of valentines my mom and I would choose for me to give my classmates and my teacher. I would spend hours sorting my colorful paper greetings from best to worst and my girlfriends accordingly. Most of the boys in my class would get the leftovers and undesirables. My teacher usually got assigned the biggest and prettiest card, the one-off different from all the other valentines in the box. From those simple beginnings of sorting and assigning, I think I gave myself a distorted view about love.

No one told me to sort the cards. No one told me to choose the box of cards that most expressed myself as a person. My mom and dad didn’t buy valentine cards or gifts for anyone but each other and us kids. My brother and sister were a lot older than me; they were experiencing the holiday inside the complicated rituals of teenagers. Other kids – including my son, Parker, decades later – were very quick and clear in their choices.

My son liked Batman, ergo the Batman cards were his choice. When we opened that inaugural set of Batman Valentines when Parker was in first grade, he read and methodically sorted the eight types of valentines included in the box into eight neat stacks. Then he shut his eyes and had me write each kid’s name on a valentine as he visualized his way around his classroom. His instructions for my inscribing were easy: pick the top valentine from each stack, 1-8, sign “from Parker”, then start over at the first stack again. Valentines, Go Fish – it was the same process for him.

By 2nd grade, we were like socialites with a seating chart. That year he liked Buzz Lightyear, so Toy Story cards were purchased in early January; let all the losers with bad parents get stuck with Strawberry Shortcake or Hot Wheels. This time, I was relegated to carefully gluing wrapped candy to the cards after Parker had arranged and signed them. All the girls got Jessie, Bo Peep, and Rex cards; all the boys got Buzz, Woody, and Mr. Potato Head. Slinky and Hamm seemed to be in the neutral gender zone, though I noticed Hamm was definitely dispersed to kids my son didn’t know very well. What did this mean? Was he a genius with Orwellian sensibilities – a super intuiter of potential swine? Was he a misogynist for assigning the wishy-washy character of Rex, the self-loathing dinosaur, to girls only? As the late afternoon wore on I discovered that in the space of a year, he had developed all kinds of methods for arranging and categorizing gender and likeability: “MOM! I don’t have enough Jessie cards for the brown haired girls. MOM! I don’t have enough ‘tato heads for the funny guys in my class. MOM! You can’t tape a pink sucker to that Buzz card.” Elementary school is a tough gig of being introduced to people and relationships. Whose brilliant idea was it to introduce a love holiday into the mix? No wonder adults are so mixed up about romance and intimacy.

Through my teenage years and early twenties, I spent Valentine’s Day with assorted boyfriends and love interests. Those were sometimes sweet and sometimes awkward occasions filled with sterling silver jewelry and musical cards, romantic picnics and surprise concert tickets, hot kisses and knee-weakening hand holding. But, it never felt like the days I had learned to anticipate from elementary school: no sudden revelations of love, no giant candy boxes from secret admirers, no new, immediate best friends. I spent a couple with girlfriends drinking fruity cocktails while swearing off males and romantic love of any kind. We didn’t mean it. We always ended those evenings swearing to do better next time: to notice deep flaws and intimacy issues as soon as they arose, to be better listeners and nurturers, to get sharper haircuts or different clothes so we would stop being deadbeat magnets, to trust our instincts, to play the field before getting too close, too fast. We broke hearts, too, don’t get me wrong. If the opposite of love is indifference, then we certainly were blithely arrogant and ignorant of many a potential, suitable mate and probably stood in our own way of finding intimacy and connection. After all of that structured, appointed build-up of romantic love as a kid in school, were we unreasonable to get more scared of intimacy and more dreadful of the big day where anticipation would meet its match?

I gave up on love and passion after having my heart broken before I was thirty. Until then, my one true love were my parents and I just didn’t have the same depth of feeling in friendship or romance for anyone else in life. I tried, but no one ever matched up to my family’s consistent support and care and it just didn’t seem like it was enough to commit myself to giving a huge bag of affection and constancy for the linty mints of others. Then my dad died and, soon enough after, my mom died and I kind of buried my heart alongside them. And all of those great childhood days like Valentine’s Day I tossed in, too.

It is said that you always find something when you aren’t looking. When I least expected or was even thinking about love, Cupid’s arrow struck me with someone I never would have bet would have been my soulmate. I had my first real Valentine’s Day in decades the first one we shared together. He brought balloons, breakfast, a singing bear, and a big red velvet box of candy into our bedroom and woke me up to tell me he loved me. It felt like elementary school all over again. He was handsome, funny, kind, intelligent, artistic, and sexy. I adored him and felt like I was the luckiest person alive; he made me feel engaged and hopeful again about love and everything else. I married him five years later. The distance between that first Valentine’s Day and our subsequent marriage was where we had to work out all of our childhood notions of romance and love. After that first Valentine’s Day, we didn’t celebrate another one. And, as this one comes around, I just don’t know what to think of romance or of love anymore.

Romance is fun. It is passionate and twirly and nervous and bubbly. It is discovery and listening and empathizing and feeling united in a depth of emotion. Romantic love is like existing in a parallel universe; everything seems shinier and prettier, fresher and perkier than it did the day before you were in love. Romance is surprising, exciting, sharing, and optimistic; romance is the question. It is the previews before the movie; it is the amuse bouche. Courting and wooing are meant to take time; the feelings building are to be savored. Rushing means you are filling a hole; taking time means matching levels of feeling to actions. Romance is also narcissistic; it can be hurtful and obtuse. Romance is sexual; it is quivering and hardening. It is sensual and it is exotic and it feels absolutely unique. It is chemical and it is physical. It is walking in the rain without needing an umbrella; it is riding a Ferris wheel without looking at the view. It is Chinese take-out with fortune cookies and chop sticks in the bag. It is consuming and it is urgent. Romance is castles and gestures and roses and rose colored glasses.

Romance is fantastic and every relationship should have a grand start with it or an early period of it, at least. Romance also finds its way back in love through growth and change. Since newness and unexplored territory is part of the seduction of romance, it can be reignited just by progressing as a human being. Insignificant change is not the same as evolution; romance blossoms into love with the strong catalyst of time and adaptation. Because, more than anything, romance is a promise of the future that delivers instantly – and fleetingly – in the present.

Love answers the question of romance. Love is the future that romance promised; it is the destination of chivalry and courting, but it is really just the beginning of a much longer, much more involved journey. Love is a Thanksgiving dinner and the nap afterward. Love is an invisible force that is felt like a constant hum in those sharing it. It is warm and liquid. It is the brass plaque on a park bench dedicated to beloved wife and mother. It is there in a lost job, an illness, a windfall, a new baby; love is unconditional. It is deep trust, deep affection, and deep knowing. Where romance is Christopher Columbus, love is Abraham Lincoln. Loving someone makes you a better person: a saint, an architect, a true friend. Love makes you kinder, more patient, more understanding, and more giving than you would be without it. It makes you want and believe that everything you are is and will be sublime. Love is supportive; it is protective, generous, nurturing, and constant. It encourages and, sometimes, carries. It cannot be chased, captured, kidnapped, bought, demanded, or taken; it has to be earned by preparing the heart, mind, and soul for its arrival. Two people can learn to love together; it’s a process that has no clear beginning and no end. Love is hard and it is painful. Love endures and love stays. Love is a miracle.

Some people may be falling in love this Valentine’s Day and others may be falling out. Some will be reaffirming the passion and romance that started a long union; others will be mourning the loss of their beloved because life can be inexplicable that way. Some will be looking for love in all the wrong places and others will be begging a Hallmark shop owner to stay open just five more minutes. Wherever you are this February 14th, Happy Valentine’s Day.

To my sweetest husband, especially, I love you. XO

My Emerald Year

Susann Hayden kicks off a brand new blog with a light-hearted free association of her 2016 horoscope.

According to astrologer Susan Miller, this is my emerald year. An emerald year is rare and fortuitous – the best year that can happen. It is when Jupiter, planet of gifts and luck, enters your Zodiac sun sign and stays 12 months. It happens every 12 years and sets the stage for the next 12 years, since it takes that length of time for Jupiter to orbit the sun. Fantastic luck, happy coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, and getting profound help from like souls, are all hallmarks of an Emerald Year. One of the loveliest aspects of Jupiter is that there are no penalties with his visit. Unlike the dreary taskmaster Saturn, planet of hard lessons and forgotten karma, Jupiter’s benevolence and gifts are free of charge. You just have to be open to receiving and building on them in the best way you can. Jupiter’s cycle is the time, as well, for your true love to come into your life. Jupiter’s goal is to make you happy, so it is important to dream big during his visit; you must seize the chance to visualize, take steps, and realize the life you want to create during these years. Jupiter’s visits are so rare, that I, as a Virgo, would have to live to the ripe age of 96 to get all eight of them in my sun sign this centennial.

After a decade of big events and transitions, I have been really excited to find out about this year that started last August and will continue to September of 2016. I thought I better make the most of it. So, after a little free association and research about emeralds, I discovered the following.

Emerald, the Gemstone

Emeralds are fascinating and rare. They are distinguished by their flaws; scientists can tell where individual emeralds originated and how they evolved by the different types of irregularities in color and clarity they show. According to a wonderful website on gems called Crystal Vaults, emeralds are part of the Beryl group of gems, which are colorless until they react with other elements; in the case of emeralds, those reactive elements are vanadium and chromium. Interestingly, those elements were originally very far apart from each other on earth. So, imagine the thousands of years and violent landscape change and natural evolution that had to occur on the planet for these two elements to move close enough together to beryl to form emeralds and you get an idea of their sort of mystical place in the gemstone family and their believed power and esteem. Emeralds have been around since ancient times: Incas, Aztecs, Egyptian pharaohs, and Indian maharajahs all revered, mined, and wore emeralds. Now, these gems are found primarily in Africa and South America and excavated routinely and professionally. Leonardo DiCaprio will never have to make a movie about exploited Africans killing each other for emeralds; no De Beers type corporation has ever designed a worldwide advertising campaign to assert that any woman who doesn’t get an emerald from her fiance is not really loved or valuable.

Emeralds according to Astrology and Religion

In astrology, emeralds promote understanding and intellect and empowers the wearer spiritually. Emerald wearers are led to “a peaceful and triumphant life adorned with the flowers of delight.” Writers benefit from wearing them, as do most types of artists. The emerald is entrusted with keeping a relationship strong and everlasting when given to a lover by her beloved, then worn around the waist. Great health, prosperity, and success for Virgo – my specific sun sign – along with a happy and respectful long life come from wearing emeralds. In fact, only Geminis and Virgos should wear emeralds – on the pinky finger of the right hand… on Wednesdays only…and, optimally, at sunrise. For early Christians, the stones became symbolic of the resurrection – a rebirth into a fresh, new life.  Wearing emeralds is thought to improve eyesight and removes the blindfold from the scales of justice, so she can see more than facts. The emerald is intuitive. Possessors must never give away an emerald or it will bring great misfortune to them; Virgos have a problem giving too much. As do I.

Emerald Green, the color

Green is the calmest of colors. Emerald green is considered one of the most beautiful colors. Though we all learned early in school that green was not a primary color and that blue and yellow combine to make green, it turns out that was only true for painting and printing colors. “In the RGB color model, used on TV and in computer screens, [green] is one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue, which are mixed in different combinations to create all other colors.” One could argue that green is more modern a color than that lightweight, upstart hue: yellow.

Still, green is everything old and new again. The word green comes from the same German root word as ‘grow’ and ‘grass’; the Latin root viridis gives us words like ‘verdant’ and ‘haricots verts’ (green beans, en francais.) Chlorophyll is what makes everything flora in nature look green; when oceans look green, it’s because the blue rays from the sun’s spectrum are absorbed and an abundance of green plant life or run-off sediment from nearby rivers in the seawater makes the wavelengths appear more green than blue. Either way, the color green in nature is a direct result of the sun’s light, whether by instigating a process like photosynthesis or by providing light rays that add color to our world.

Mona Lisa wore green, which symbolized she was not of the nobility; leprechauns wore green to distinguish themselves from the French aristocracy. When clothing more clearly represented social status, green was worn by the upper middle class: bankers, merchants, and the gentry. In Eastern culture the color green has very positive connotations, primarily indicating fertility. In the West, it is associated with nature, youth (or inexperience), spring, envy, and sickness. It is also thought of as a safety color: green lights, green cards. It is the color of the modern ecological movement as it represents a naturalness and sustainability. Political groups and products are often marketed as being ‘green’ or environmentally friendly.

Green is the most important color in Islam and is represented on almost all Islamic country flags; Muslims believe green represents the lush vegetation of Paradise. It is also associated with Ireland from the Gaelic period. (Gaelic people were once French!) I like France, so this must be my Emerald Year connection. I have cultivated a lush garden – my Paradise – and have exalted being on the ocean since childhood, so there is much potential synergy with the color green for me this year.

Seattle & Wichita are both Emerald Cities

I live in Seattle. Seattle is spectacularly green; that’s true. Even the blackest thumb can grow anything here, which is a testament to the large number of bad weed growers. But, the people are not unique or spectacular in any way that I have found. If green is the most serene color, then perhaps Washingtonians have become immune to it. The state is known for the Seahawks, serial killers, and suicides, and the motto seems to be, “For Me and Mine and Give Me Yours”. But, I digress – there is no connection here for exploration of My Emerald Year except to try and bloom where I am planted so I can uproot, leave the state, and never have to return.

Wichita is also known as the Emerald City. I have never been to Wichita, but it is in Kansas. It is not the capitol of the state – that would be Topeka – which means a good place to dig potatoes; who would trade that gem for a name like the Emerald City? I also recall that Glen Campbell sang about a county lineman in Wichita who is still on the line and wants me for all time. Clearly, my true love this year could be some sort of utility worker. Ultimately, though, the tie-in here is that Kansas is the setting for Frank Baum’s books on The Wizard of Oz.

Oz, the quintessential Emerald City

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published on September 1st, in 1900. In it, a farm girl named Dorothy is conked on the head during a tornado and dreams of a great adventure to a magical land where she gets fabulous sparkly shoes, meets fascinating new friends who really seem to get her, and where she spends her entire odyssey trying to return home, to dig potatoes maybe. Oz – The Emerald City she must locate to find a great wizard with the powers to get her back to the farm – turns out to be a surreal destination clouded in an illusion of emerald color and where she and her friends find out from the great and powerful wizard (who is also only an illusion of smoke and mirrors) that they each had the power to be, do, or have what they wanted inside themselves all along: a brain, a heart, a home, the nerve. If anything, the Wizard provides a paradigm shift that allows for acknowledgement, enlightenment, and self-confidence. Oh, I hope that is what my emerald year brings.

Upon reflection, it seems that my Emerald Year is set to be quite wondrous and wanderous. The gemstone facts provide clues that I should be happy for my flaws; unique imperfections represent a long, full life in constant evolution. I am proud of the long journey and tectonic shifts that formed me; I will trust in my own wisdom more and realize that the divine and beautiful really does come from within.

All of the number 12s in the first paragraph alert me to the cycles I am completing and the new one beginning this year. I am blessed to be building a brand new life from the ashes of my last. New genres of art will bring me some green. I don’t need to start with outdated past learnings – blue and yellow – to create.

And, like Mona Lisa, whether I become famous or infamous, I will never pretend to be something I am not; I will be natural. Most of all, unlike Dorothy, I will be open to new adventures, people, and places; I will refrain from pulling back the curtain too fast on some of the magic that comes my way. Home is where the heart is, after all; I will stay present in my life, wherever it takes me, every moment this year. And, if I really work hard and look for the opportunities that Jupiter brings my way, maybe I can spend another Christmas in Paris. Viva la Jupiter!