Longevity, love and memory...

Hello friend,

There was a blanket of humidity smothering Stockholm this month. We sweat on the subway. We walk around with a perpetual stickiness between our fingers. We sit in the still air and notice as infinitesimal droplets collect around our necks. It’s a humidity wave, if there is such a thing. Last week it was 99% humidity, raining, and close.

The nearness of the weather is a final burst of summer – intense and unignorable. Something to make its inevitable parting easier for us come September. It’s usually around August I begin to feel that the tender early rosiness of summer is wearing thin, and I yearn for the cool, crisp mornings and dark, cosy evenings.

Just today it felt like the first leaves turned and started to fall. The herald of autumn, its nose just above the surface – is it time yet?

But not quite. For now we’ll enjoy the last of the small, sharp blueberries straight from the bushes before the mushrooms appear.

August Road in the Fields, Swetlana Romanuk (2019)

“Sometimes people say that they hear music when they see my paintings. Often my paintings are landscapes of childhood, the paths along which my ancestors walked. The trees themselves seem to remember what’s long gone and it awakens the heart, and creates some kind of unity with the whole world, the past and the future. I, as a person who wants to know the truth, go to the original source, to a pure stream, to the very top of the mountain, I appeal to nature. In this pure, continuously flowing stream, there is no place for lies. Pure energy, playing with all the colours of the rainbow in the sun. And I will try to learn the truth while standing on the lap of the stream, as far as it opens to me.”

I’ve always wondered why, in classic romance stories, the focus is on the start of the relationship. Fairy tales often end “happily ever after”, as soon as the two leads decide they’d like to start a relationship. In Romeo and Juliet – often called the greatest love story of all time – the plot ends in tragedy before the couple really know anything about each other. It’s all very front-heavy. The limerent, glistening first glances, grazed kisses, breathless admissions of … something we call “love”. But is it really love-love? What about the long tail-end bit? Isn’t that real love? The 50-plus years of picking each other’s things up off the floor, shouting “pardon, darling?” from opposite ends of the house, watching each other grow and fail and be poorly and then well again. Isn’t that the good bit?

The reduction of the long end of a relationship to “happily ever after” is a miserable waste of opportunity. But perhaps it wouldn’t make quite so exciting a plot for films and novels. The will-they-won’t-they is much easier to bob along with than the who-am-I-what-are-we-doing that hits a bit later on. After all – there’s not much to lose in a new romance and much more at stake in long-term love.

I came across a beautiful quote from Joni Mitchell, on the theme of long-lasting relationships. Because, if anyone can make a beautiful story out of long-term love, it’s Joni.

From Talk to Her by Kristine McKenna (book published 2004, original interview from 1991)

McKenna: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in life thus far?
Mitchell: I don’t know if I’ve learned anything yet! I did learn how to have a happy home, but I consider myself fortunate in that regard because I could’ve rolled right by it. Everybody has a superficial side and a deep side, but this culture doesn’t place much value on depth — we don’t have shamans or soothsayers, and depth isn’t encouraged or understood. Surrounded by this shallow, glossy society we develop a shallow side, too, and we become attracted to fluff. That’s reflected in the fact that this culture sets up an addiction to romance based on insecurity — the uncertainty of whether or not you’re truly united with the object of your obsession is the rush people get hooked on. I’ve seen this pattern so much in myself and my friends and some people never get off that line.

But along with developing my superficial side, I always nurtured a deeper longing, so even when I was falling into the trap of that other kind of love, I was hip to what I was doing. I recently read an article in Esquire magazine called ‘The End of Sex,’ that said something that struck me as very true. It said: “If you want endless repetition, see a lot of different people. If you want infinite variety, stay with one.” What happens when you date is you run all your best moves and tell all your best stories — and in a way, that routine is a method for falling in love with yourself over and over.

You can’t do that with a longtime mate because he knows all that old material. With a long relationship, things die then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love. It’s hard work, though, and a lot of people run at the first sign of trouble. You’re with this person, and suddenly you look like an asshole to them or they look like an asshole to you — it’s unpleasant, but if you can get through it you get closer and you learn a way of loving that’s different from the neurotic love enshrined in movies. It’s warmer and has more padding to it.

Orpheus and Eurydice, by Frederic Leighton (1864).
Currently hanging in the beautiful Leighton House Museum, London.

“He would get a funny look on his face and I would ask him: what are you thinking about? And he was always thinking about music. This is what it is to love an artist.”

In Sarah Ruhl and Matthew Aucoin’s 2020 version of Orpheus and Eurydice (called just “Eurydice”), the pair give a voice to Eurydice – a character whose voice is so often silent in classic retellings of the myth.

The river of forgetfulness plays an important sleeping role in the opera – first consuming the memory of Eurydice after her accidental death, then her (also deceased) father’s in his frustrated grief, then Eurydice’s memory again after the painstaking recovery of it and finally, that of Orpheus on his visit to Eurydice in the underworld.

The river robs the characters of their relationships’ longevity – their love, their language, even their power of speech. The gravity of the river in this version of the story makes it somehow more tragic – the loss of love is one thing, but to take the memories and the ability to communicate is even more painful. What we risk for love is to experience loss, but what we are paid in is rich existence, and then, rich memory.

A new version of Eurydice showed at The Met in December last year, and is now showing on their on-demand service – which comes with a free 7-day trial. Erin Morley stars in the title role.

Until next month…

May you be well, happy, whole, and free.

T & B


Invite your friends to subscribe!

✨ Enjoying? Subscribe →