The In-Between
A Poem for Tony

“I used to be like you,” said my friend Louise, with the involuntary condescension common to happily married couples everywhere.  “Then I fell in love, and my heart got squishy.”

“Louise,” I replied, turning to her, “I only just barely stopped myself from pushing you down the stairs.  Don’t even!”

Louise laughed and thanked me for not pushing her down the stairs (she works next to me, so is used to the rage).  I think I was partially suffering from end-of-the-week exhaustion, but my goodness was it a trial of a week even without people preaching the virtues of romance.  Eugh, it’s like everybody suddenly realised that it was Valentine’s Day and they were single, and I have been inundated.  Phone; email; facebook; people on the street.  Thank goodness that’s over—and other than somehow agreeing to go out a couple of times in the next few weeks (and why? why?!!), I escaped unscathed.  I’m leaving the country again in 10 months; I’m not going to waste anyone’s time.

Romance is something I have been thinking about a lot for the last few months (eg here), partly because it’s something that as a traveller, I don’t get to play with much; and partly because of my book.  My novel is an absurdist fairytale, which gets more and more satirical as I redraft it—but fairytales are supposed to have happy endings, and everybody’s supposed to fall in love.  However, that’s so very different to real life, and I like to write the truth as much as I can, even if it’s in a very silly way.  What’s more, everything the rest of the world seems to find romantic seems like destructive bullshit to me.  I mean, 50 Shades of Grey?  Abuse!  (As opposed to a trusting bdsm relationship.  Also, for the best book review ever, see here—I actually couldn’t bring myself to read Twilight fan fic mommy porn, so read Katrina’s review instead).  On the topic of Twilight, how is a really, really old guy stalking, harassing and obsessing over  a teenager romantic?  And how is all the angst?  Eugh, and speaking of angst, why does every chic flick ever either (a) promote battle of the sexes bullshit (this isn’t a freaking war, people!) or (b) have miscommunication as the entire premise of the movie?  Oh, you didn’t say what you meant, and then you cried about it, and then you said it after all but it was too late, and then you went and tried to get over it while silently moping, and then finally your life was vindicated when the other party ‘fessed up and now everything’s all hunky freaking dory?  How is that something to aspire to?!?!  And then there’s the freaking books.  I read about fifty romance books last year trying to get a feel for writing in that style, and it was all so annoying.  God, it’s like every single one had some difficult love triangle (I don’t understand how you could be in love with two people at the same time), or some man in need of reforming (how about you just don’t date douchebags—hypocrisy accepted), or just lots of sex scenes which the protagonist inevitably views as romantic, even when they’re blatantly not (how about you come to terms with your sexuality, and don’t need to justify or confuse it with love?).

Google has let me down, but I once read something by John Cleese which pointed out that there’s very little difference between the prescriptions of romanticism and the symptoms of clinical depression.  It was funnier when he said it, but.  So do I think romance is dead/fiddy-faddy/whatever?  No, not at all.  In writing the book, I couldn’t figure out whether I was desperately cynical, or desperately romantic—and I really feel like they should be opposites.  I think I’m going to make a table.  Yup, it’s table time.

What culture tells me is romantic

  • abuse
  • angst
  • obsession
  • miscommunication
  • stalking
  • love triangles
  • ‘fixing’ somebody

What I think is romantic

  • trust
  • intimacy
  • compassion
  • respect
  • loyalty
  • acceptance
  • partnership

Stoopid culture.

The other thing that really bothers me is summed up pretty nicely in this quote from the only gossip page worth reading (so hilariously harsh, it’s irresistible):

[W]hile they’re hot, the majority of non-famous chicks think they’ll be hot forever, so they date and bang bar owners, DJs, club promoters, tattoo artists, and musicians. Then when they hit 28, they’ll marry the first dude who calls them back the morning. That’s usually Harold in accounting with the 2004 Chrysler Seabreeze because he’s gone more than a year without his power being disconnected.

It can’t be just me who sees this every day, right?  People (usually ones who don’t know me very well) tell me that I should just ‘choose someone’, and as long as they’re nice to me, who cares?  Well, me.  Because as one of my favourite blog entries ever so eloquently put it, sometimes people are an ellipsis and not a period.  The rest of my life is like a book, why can’t this be, too?  And if I can’t have the Big Love, if I can’t be with someone who’s as hungry for worlds and places as I am, who I can truly love and trust, then why would I choose an unsettling mediocrity over the life I have now?  It’s incomprehensible.

And now, because it seems timely and appropriate and super Russian, here’s my (quick and dirty) translation of Edward Asadov’s poem “Never Give Up on Love” (Эдуард Асадов, “Не привыкайте никогда к любви”).  Corrections are of course welcome.  Also note that I translated “не привыкайте” variously as ‘never give up’ and ‘never get used to’.  As usual I went for idiomatic rather than literal translation, like with Я Вас Любил (Пушкина, конечно!) a while back.  And yes, there’s one sentence which I just had no idea how to translate.  You’ll see it.

Не привыкайте никогда к любви!
Не соглашайтесь, как бы ни устали,
Чтоб замолчали ваши соловьи
И чтоб цветы прекрасные увяли.

И, главное, не верьте никогда,
Что будто всё проходит и уходит.
Да, звёзды меркнут, но одна звезда
По имени Любовь всегда-всегда
Обязана гореть на небосводе!

Не привыкайте никогда к любви,
Разменивая счастье на привычки,
Словно костёр на крохотные спички,
Не мелочись, а яростно живи!

Не привыкайте никогда к губам,
Что будто бы вам издавна знакомы,
Как не привыкнешь к солнцу и ветрам
Иль ливню средь грохочущего грома!

Да, в мелких чувствах можно вновь и вновь
Встречать, терять и снова возвращаться,
Но если вдруг вам выпала любовь,
Привыкнуть к ней – как обесцветить кровь
Иль до копейки разом проиграться!

Не привыкайте к счастью никогда!
Напротив, светлым озарясь гореньем,
Смотрите на любовь свою всегда
С живым и постоянным удивленьем.

Алмаз не подчиняется годам
И никогда не обратится в малость.
Дивитесь же всегда тому, что вам
Заслужено иль нет – судить не нам,
Но счастье в мире всё-таки досталось!

И, чтоб любви не таяла звезда,
Исполнитесь возвышенным искусством:
Не позволяйте выдыхаться чувствам,
Не привыкайте к счастью никогда.

Never give up on love!
Do not resolve, no matter how tired,
To silence the nightingales of your heart
And allow those beautiful flowers to wither.

And, most importantly, never believe
That things all come and go.
Yes, stars fade, but one star
called Love always always
continues to blaze bright in the heavens!

Never give up on love,
Exchanging happiness for habit,
Like a flaming bonfire for tiny matches,
Don’t trifle with such things, and passionately live.

Never get used to those lips,
As though you’re too long familiar,
Like you never get used to the sun nor the winds
nor downpour amidst the booming thunder!

Yes, petty feelings can exist again and again—
Be met, lost and regained once more—
But if you find yourself amidst love,
Immerse yourself like your very blood has changed
Or to the last drop the time you’ll fritter and lose!

Never get used to happiness!
Unlike the dawning light of combustion,
View your love always
With lively and constant surprise.

Love, like a diamond, disobeys the years
And never becomes small.
Marvel always at that, whether you consider it
Deserved or not. Judge ourselves not,
For happiness exists in the world regardless.

And so, love is not a fading star,
But an art inevitable and sublime:
Don’t let your emotions lose their breath,
Never, ever give up on your happily-ever-after.

The In-Between
A Poem for Tony

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