“It’s better when I don’t really like anyone I’m dating. When I really like a guy, I’m fuckin’ creepy.”
“Yeah, I end up doing stuff that’s kinda stalker-ish, then I totally regret it.”
Two girls in workout gear boarded the elevator with me, likewise dressed in yoga pants, at Pacific Place, affording me a glimpse into their conversation before they exited on the fifth floor. I sniffed with amusement after the doors closed; we’ve all been there. There are the romantic partners who matter and those who don’t.
Sometimes, it’s easier on everyone when they don’t. The potential for obsession is easily stirred when we find a rare someone who plucks our inner strings; we act uncontrollably in ways that we believe are romantic. Driven by the hope that our intended understands the tender little freak within us, we are compelled to leave thoughtful tokens on doorsteps and draw epistles of love into windshield frost at 5 am so it’s there when they drive to work.
The unwitting objects of our affection scare easily when faced with the onslaught of our admiration — which, when not returned, manifests as fucking creepy. That’s when people disappear from our lives.
Ironically, when the tables are turned, we rebuff love-sick assailants just as brutally. Sans empathy, we spurn them like ham-handed children, forgetting the pain we’ve been doled by others in similar fashion.
Even if we’re fortunate enough to find a soulmate or two somewhere in that cruel churn, then what? At a certain point, we’re separated by death. Love and loss is a never-ending cycle; without one the other cannot exist and neither can be avoided.
The artist Roy McMakin created a sculptural embodiment of this concept in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, one of my favorite pieces. Constructed mainly of concrete letters, “Love and Loss” is an intertwining artwork that links the words LOVE and LOSS with applied paint and enamel.
What I appreciate most is its approachability; you can literally sit in, on and against love and loss via a string of individual benches ranging in height. The E serves as a table while two trees provide the armature for a stabilizing V, which completes the word “LOVE” when read left to right. A series of diminutive forms, two Ss, stretch to the left; contrasting white paint reveals the L in “LOSS” which reads backwards.
A fiery orange ampersand turns on a tall metal pole ten feet above the benches to connect the two ideas. This embodied intention –revolving passion– is what brings the two thoughts together in life and in sculpture. With passion, there is risk just as there is loss with love; without its turning fire, neither occurs independently.
McMakin’s sculpture came to mind yesterday after I met with a lawyer to draft my will. It’s something that I’ve meant to do for years, going so far as to buy the do-it-yourself software, which I launched only once. It was clear that this would never happen without the drive of a paid consultant.
Lisa ribbed me about my introductory email in which I described myself as a single late-30s woman with mostly paper assets, little family and clear intentions when it comes to health and wealth. She read aloud from a hard copy of my message, peering above her reading glasses to drawl, “This reads like a personal ad!” We tittered at my earnestness.
Our meeting was so conversational as to be fun; had cocktails been present, it would have had the aura of a catch-up date with a favorite colleague.
I guessed that Lisa was a few years shy of my mother’s age, with reddish brown curly hair and dark eyeliner on her upper lids. She was warm but firm; the kind who can conduct business while leaving enough room for chit-chat. In no time, she artfully had me disclosing the details of my life without it feeling like a deposition.
We discussed the parties in line for inheritance and the chain of command for power of attorney. She didn’t bat an eye or ask probing questions when I confirmed the absence of my parents in both of those sequences. It felt refreshing to state how things are without the weight of someone else’s compulsion to console or quiz me.
The fact that she didn’t pry made me realize how often it happens — and why I typically avoid the subject of my parents or brace for inquiry with a series of responses that begin with, “Well, unfortunately…” and end with, “Yeah, it’s too bad.”
Our conversation about my last wishes wasn’t a bit depressing, though love and loss were woven throughout, like when we discussed the house I owned years ago. She was surprised to learn that I sold a home so early in life. “I was going through a divorce,” I explained. “It ended up working to our advantage; we sold at the height of the market in 2006. The house was a bit of a fixer and neither of us wanted to maintain it.”
“Ah. Better not to have that around your neck.” She nodded with approval, moving on from my finances to medical power of attorney. I was surprised by how easy the choices were to make.
“There is one thing that we haven’t talked about,” I added near the end. She perked up an eyebrow. “I’m a writer and I’ve kept journals for years. I’d like to make sure that they’re all destroyed after my death.”
“Hm. Now that’s interesting. Have you published books?”
“Yeah. I self-published a book in 2011 and I’m nearly finished with one that I hope to find a publisher for. And, of course, I hope there will be more in the future.”
“So, we need to talk about who inherits your copyrights, as well.” I hadn’t thought of that.
“The cousins get that, too,” I said definitively, like there were voluminous proceeds to be had. Taking a cue from her previous questions, I added, “In the event of their deaths, their children will hold the copyrights.” She scrawled notes.
“Going back to the journals, who do you trust to take care of that? If you do become a famous author, your university library will be first in line to get their hands on them. They’ll approach your family with pleas not to destroy the material that contains your thought process.” I liked that we were discussing this with as much seriousness as if my legacy was as prolific as Stephen King’s.
“I think I can trust my cousins to dispose of everything. They’re supportive and all, but they’re not so passionately involved that they couldn’t fulfill my wishes. I can’t see anyone swaying them.”
“Are you sure?”
It was a good question. How much can we trust anyone with the power of our private thoughts? Diaries and journals by nature carry a special weight; it’s commonly believed that their contents are more real or true somehow, perhaps because they are our literary confessors. What people don’t realize is that they contain mere ideas, which are only accurate until the instant their birth has been milked away. Once constrained by letters and words, our thoughts are rendered clunky and outdated.
“Journals are funny things,” she continued. “Potent. If you get published, people might be convinced that you’ve got the secrets of the universe in there. Someone is likely to demand that they be shared so that everyone else can learn from them.” She wasn’t kidding.
“I’ve kept journals for years,” she continued. “I can’t say that there’s anything profound in mine –some days, it’s like, I got up and had cereal before I walked the dog— but journals can be a thing of controversy in a relationship… or a will. Someone will want to read them.”
“I know what you mean. When I was married, my husband went looking for my journal and read it.”
“That’s grounds for divorce, you know.” Again, she wasn’t kidding. I winced, but continued.
“He got angry at what he read, and I didn’t write again for five years,” I admitted. “I felt totally violated. The weird thing was that I also felt guilty, like I had done something wrong just by having these private thoughts.”
She put her pen down. “He actually did violate you; he invaded your private space. I’d say that you made the right decision to get divorced.”
Normally when I speak of my ex-husband, I include a coda about his good nature, aiming to immediately dispel any assumptions that he’s a bad guy. But Lisa was right, if not direct. I did make the right decision. We didn’t trust each other, and a marriage without trust cannot stand.
“You should be able to leave your journal out on a table and trust that your spouse won’t read it. That’s the understanding that I have with my partner. Everyone needs her private space; it’s essential to any relationship you want to last.”
She tapped the stack of notes on her desk thoughtfully and asked, “So, you trust the cousins to be able to carry out your wishes?”
“I do. I’ll have a talk with them in the meantime to make sure.”
“Okay then. You’ll have time to review the draft and make changes, if you want.”
As I drove home down the steep grade of Olive to Denny Way, I caught sight of the sculpture park off in the distance. Beneath the horizon at the water’s edge, McMakin’s concrete forms whispered suggestions of love and loss to people from all over the world. Even though I couldn’t see it, the glowing & reminded me that it’s not love OR loss, but both.
There’s the love and loss of death and break-ups, and there’s the interplay that happens when we enter serious relationships. In joining with someone else, we surrender part of our single selves to make room for that union. Yet, within that shared space, both parties must offer the other room to play and think and breathe on his or her own.
Talking with Lisa about which loved ones can be trusted with my finances, my health and my journals led me to reflect on my legacy as a writer. I began scrawling on the undersides of tables as a toddler; when my parents discovered my blocky Crayola missives, I was punished. Decades later, when my ex-husband infiltrated my journal, I was likewise held in contempt. For most of my life, I’ve held my writing close to my chest — not just my journals or notes, but short stories, poems and essays that I somehow hoped might be published… if only I was brave enough to let anyone read them.
Strangely, it’s been through this blog, a world-wide platform, that I’ve been able to share my writing. It began in 2010 when I was in Italy, far away from everyone’s comments; I used it to document my fellowship work. Initially, I was lulled into the blogosphere by a false sense of anonymity. Even today, writing for my blog feels very much like journaling, though I certainly don’t edit my actual journal for hours the way I do each essay.
Each week, hitting the Publish button is a quiet moment of accomplishment. Three years after I began blogging, I am still taken by surprise when someone wants to discuss my posts face-to-face. I forget that I’ve allowed a bunch of people, some of them strangers, into the same thoughts that got me into trouble in the past. Yet, the more I do it, the more I feel compelled to continue. My first blog led to a book, then another blog, which led to a year of public readings. Someday soon, I hope that it will give rise to a published memoir and a series of travel essays in magazines.
Even now, at the early stages of my authorial career, I sense a budding legacy that I hope to hand over to someone else some day. Love and loss have shaped it, and true to form, that is the way it will be passed on.