Derailed on the Way to First Loves

vintage_match_valentine_1aMy mind is a funny thing. I don’t mean to be the contrarian ranter debutante who comes along on Fridays and turns our topics inside out. It just happens, in large part because by the end of the week I have no idea what to write that won’t be totally redundant. It’s the Friday dilemma. But also, maybe, just maybe, I’m the debutante who’d be pictured at the end of the cotillion lineup with a cockeyed tiara and black pearls instead of white.

That said, today I was on the road to writing about my first loves. I’d even found images of old-fashioned Valentine’s Day cards to get me in the mood. I’d also researched Saint Valentine, a lesser saint who died on February 14th but wasn’t associated with romantic love until Chaucer came along and ascribed it to him. (This is one theory at least.)

WebstersI was ready to write an ode to my first book love, The Random House Dictionary. This was a deluxe dictionary that included a veritable encyclopedia at the end of it–a full-color atlas, lists of country capitals, language dictionaries, the solar system, and oodles of cool stuff. I’d study the atlas, try to teach myself Spanish, and memorize country capitals. I loved that giant book, and after all these years I’m still glad to see it gathering dust on my mom’s bookshelf.

I was ready to write about my first word-fest love. About third grade I suddenly caught on to the English language as something more than a chore. For some reason, I started my writing career writing lists. Lists of everything you can imagine–dog breeds, horse breeds, horse names (for the horse I would own someday, of course). The creativity part kicked in when I started writing down rhyming words–chair, fair, mare–and then tried to use them in poems. I was a word nut, for sure.

DCF 1.0I was ready to talk about the first creative endeavor I loved that wasn’t about words: photography. About six grade I received a Kodak Instamatic camera for Christmas. I was hooked! In fact, in my 20s I couldn’t decide between writing and photography. Ultimately, writing won out. Photography came in really close though. I think it honed my observational skills. It’s its own kind of storytelling.

So there I was, ready, when I found out a good friend had died over the weekend. She wasn’t supposed to die–she wasn’t truly ready yet. She died because of money–the lack thereof–which came as a result of having an a-hole ex-husband who refused to pay what she was legally owed out of his military pension and an a-hole son who saddled her with his college debt.

Now I’m sitting here thinking about Valentine’s Day, the Hallmark holiday that celebrates romantic, chivalrous, courtly love. I’m thinking about the fact that I write about the dark sides of things–KILMOON is all about the dark side of love. Love can be twisted, obsessive, neurotic, dangerous, and downright cruel.

I’m sitting here thinking about my friend and the two men in her life who had once loved her. How could it get so totally fecked up? I suppose I write to explore exactly these kinds of questions.

I wonder if we as a society idealize love too much. What do you think?

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

17 thoughts on “Derailed on the Way to First Loves

  1. I like your dark horse posts! And like you, I scramble a bit at the end of the week to come up with something on topic that isn’t the same thing as everyone else. But Fridays…yeah, they’re tough, I bet.

    I don’t think we idolize love too much–I think it’s one of the very few things that matter in this world. But I do believe self love is just as important as loving others and if there was more emphasis there, many of the horrors that happen today wouldn’t be. And by self love, I don’t mean feeding our wants and our egos, but nurturing ourselves and learning how to set boundaries, understanding what makes us tick and how to mesh those traits with people who bring out the best in us. Another great post!

    • Thanks, Heather! I love your optimistic, upbeat, generous energy–it’s infectious! And I agree with you about your brand of self-love–it would help alleviate so much suffering. Happy V’s Day!

  2. Yes. Absolutely unqualified yes.

    I reflect this in my writing in a different way, it seems, which is that I tend to deemphasize love (well, except for jealousy as a motive for murder 🙂 ). Not that there isn’t any, but it’s usually not central, and there’s no panting, aching teenage love at all (I didn’t write about that even when I was that age). When there is love, it’s between adults. My detective and her assistant are married, but he continues to refer to her as “my employer,” because that is still the most central and important aspect of their relationship.

    And, as a writer, it does annoy me that so many stories end with the couple getting together (getting married or some equivalent), so the story ends at the point that things can actually start to get interesting.

    On another note, I had that exact dictionary! It was a gift from my father’s boss when I was young. Between that and the Encyclopedia Britannica that my parents bought, I was all set. 🙂

    • Hi Anthony, you the first person I’ve met who had the same dictionary. Why don’t they make dictionaries like that anymore?

      The dynamic between your married assistant and detective sounds interesting–there’s so much there that’s not there, know what I mean?

      I’m really only interested in love in books when it’s fraught. 🙂

      • With the detective and her assistant, they are almost never demonstrative in public, so I’ve shown people who assumed they were a couple long before they were, and people who don’t realize they’re involved now, even though they’re married. People do make assumptions when they see a man and a woman together.

        I mostly don’t write about really fraught relationships, I guess. I just did one of those character interview things on my blog. Of the four characters interviewed, two are in stable relationships and two are not involved and not interested. With the two who are in relationships, each is in a relationship where one partner has been known to murder people. I think those percentages give a pretty good idea of what I do and don’t like to write about. 🙂

  3. Didn’t have time yesterday to say as much as I wanted, but I’m really sorry about your friend. Sorry for you for her loss, but also sorry for her and how hard her life must have been. I’m glad she had a friend like you.

    • Thanks, Lori. Her life was difficult, for sure. It boils my blood that it came down to money. Stupid, all-important money. It truly didn’t have to be that way. (Where are my chocolate hearts when I need them?!)

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss, Lisa. I think in some ways we do idolize the idea of love and pay less attention to the practice of it. Love isn’t about the flowers and the diamond rings and the monologues at the end of romantic movies. It’s in the mundane actions we take every day to look out for one another to make sure our loved ones remain loved and cared for.

    • That’s a great way of putting it, Natalia: “pay less attention to the practice of it.” I subscribe to the adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”

  5. I think we call situations love that are really dysfunction. I think realizing the dysfunction and working through it to health is love. Therefore, I do not think love is always pretty and sometimes the greatest love is drawing healthy boundaries and limiting the dysfunction. I am also learning that I can love unconditionally but choose to be in relations with someone. Heavy stuff, I suppose, but I am doing a lot of soul searching of late! 🙂

    • So true, Stacy! We would have half the novels we do without love in all it’s dysfunctional potential. 🙂 Congratulations on soul-searching; seems to me too few people engage in it.

  6. Timely. I’m having dinner with a young friend I’ve mentored since childhood. Her boyfriend chose last night to move out after 4 years because he can’t imagine being with one woman all of his life. I understand in a way. But it’s a knife to her heart because she CAN imagine being with him forever. So yes, Lisa, I think romantic love can be a false standard, but not sure how you explain that to someone caught up in it.

    • Hi Susan! So true–there’s a movie or television program I saw in which one of the characters went on about love being like a disease. I wish I could remember it better, but it stuck in my mind anyhow. I don’t think love is a disease, of course, but it’s not all fairy dust either. I’m old enough now that I find the crush/infatuation stage annoying — 🙂

  7. Hopeless romantic here who believes true love trumps all, but as a romantic suspense murder mystery writer, I surprised myself by writing about all the evil, rapacious, avaricious dark side of love, delving into sociopathic behavior. I live a normal, happy life with a hubby of 50+ years. One wonders where the “dark” side of love comes from, and what compelled me to write about it. Possibly it was the inner sanctum of knowing the secure love in my life is a rare thing and I wanted women to be aware of falling in love when they were vulnerable and hurting–that kind of love can be the most deceptive and most dangerous.

    • Congratulations on 50 years, Sherry! That’s awesome. I’m a bigger believer in duality — the ying yang thing. Even with true love there’s darkness, even with utter despair, there’s hope.

      Oh man, I so agree. I know from past experience to not bother with dating when if I’m going through a downtime — that’s just when I’m likely to attract the worst man for me!

  8. Yes! I hate VD because of a sister and friends who cried and threw pity parties every year they didn’t have a boyfriend. For some reason these funny and smart women weren’t “good enough” on Feb. 14th. Now, I celebrate it with my 3 kids, but my hubby and I don’t do anything special because it just rubs me the wrong way. And it’s not just VD either. Our society is obsessed with it. If you don’t believe me, switch on the television or pick up a magazine. You can watch the bachelor/ bachelorette, matchmaker, millionaire matchmaker, and so on. You can also read about their love lives or other celebrities’ love lives in the latest magazine.

    Sorry for the rant. You obviously hit a raw nerve. I love your dark, twisty articles. They seem to resonate with me.

    Sorry about your friend. Every year, for the last four years, I’ve lost a dear loved one. I know how hard it can be. Hang in there and know that eventually people get what they deserve.

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