The ’45: Considering Complexities – On Plasticity of Identity

floyd merrell diagram

On Plasticity: Being Ourselves, Able to be Ourselves


My birthday recurred.  Post-40 in a thriving family of 6, there are not many days deemed “special” that end up being about oneself as the father, caretaker, partner, provider, no matter how small the scope of the surround.  Soccer games and music lessons; feeding times and laundering; all keep going on – birthday or no.  The exhaustion continuous activity and felt responsibility breeds seems to increase in proportion to the numbers signifying one’s years upon earth.

But there are flourishes and touchings – like small miracles – proffered patience, generosity and deference gifted one’s way as the children mature.  I received momentously considered and thoughtfully creative presents and offerings from my brood, including the effort of travel (a 5-hour drive for a 3-hour meal), some self-deferrals of wants and demands for a day, shared and repurposed objects and much love and affection.

In the midst of which my brother-in-law texted: “And what have YOU done for YOU today?”


Isn’t nearly everything we do for ourselves in some way? I thought.  Caring for those we love, providing for their needs and responding to their living feeds our hope that we might be valuable partners and parents.  Enabling others’ satisfactions or play, achievements or events provides a goodness and gladness to our sense of identity.  WHAT DO I (or would I) WANT?  [If things revolved around ME? – What would I select for MYSELF, my TIME, my ACTIVITIES, were my surround and environment conducive, supportive, adaptive and compliant – attuned to MY wishes and feelings, desires and preferences – as its Center and Hub?]

This engendered heavy pause.  Followed by weeping.  Since my youth I’ve pleased people.  Especially those I crave being pleasing to.  Ever considering: if I find them, serve them, fuel them, tend to their whims and their moods and their wants and don’t fail them – they’ll have NO REASON not to accept and acknowledge me, enjoy and delight in me…perhaps even come to NEED and to LOVE me!

Still most of these persons have come and then gone – not needing an enthusiastic audience-of-me, my support systems or enthralled amour, cooking skills, cab driving, housekeeping, therapeutic attunement, nursing or cock…so much as an “Other,” I suppose.  An other alike with mixed needs, wants and cares, fears, doubts and preferences…uncertainties.


Being malleable, self-deprecating, at-your-service and adaptive in order to eventuate my longed-for (but not fully realized) purposes of belonging, chosenness, appreciation, acceptance and love, predisposed me to the Phenomena of Plasticity.

That organisms jostle and interact, adjust, emerge, revise and alter in accord with their environments and one another toward an imagined maximum survivability came as no surprise to me.

That my brain and body bend and twist, reconfigure and rework themselves toward perceived pleasures, building likewise to avoid potentially death-dealing pains, forms an accurate metaphor of my experience.

Do this, try to be that, retrain the brain, assimilate languages, nuances, behaviors and tastes, become parent and scholar, musician and lover, friend and coworker to an enormous variety of persons, places, and things (or situations).

Sounds desirable!  After all, we’re fascinated and entangled in networks and viruses, Renaissance-personages and extensive applications and sites – world seems participatory, fluid, collaborative and self-responsive – play-doh, silly putty, plastics, rubber and earth.  Water, air, flesh and fire.  Living would seem to be a plastic rather than static affair – examine a corpse! (and observed long enough, even then we’re not done and prove pliable and transforming).


Yet for me came a hitch as I pondered all this.  A lifetime spent adapting, responding and recursiving change for results that never quite arrive in a reality where even those chances will cease…


When the question is put to me:  “What is it, right now, you prefer?” it turns out, among many acknowledgedly diverse and contradictorily complex cognitive-affective responses – I USUALLY KNOW WHAT I’D PREFER.  Very few options taste best to me in any given moment, and their range and scope are slim!

And then there’s the fact that I feel great admiration towards those who speak their mind and express their desires in a direct manner!  They still may compromise and adapt, but both adults and children who proclaim what they feel and want, prefer or need, ever impress me.  I (on the other hand) tend to try constantly to guess and anticipate what those around me prefer or desire before asking into my own – as if to say – if there’s room or time after all of you…I’d sure like to…but by then I’m too tired.


So how plastic are we?  How multiple, really?  Since age 7 or 8, 12 or 15, my core desires have been pretty consistent:  Read.  Write.  Love.  Sex.  Explore.  Make.  At any given moment, regardless of conditions or surround, regardless of the options even, my litany of WHAT I WOULD DO FOR MYSELF usually boils down to this brief list.  In addition to which, I usually have a good idea of who, where, what, when, and sometimes how I’d go about each of the same – if conditions, environment and possibilities were dependent on ME.

I’ve definite tastes and predilections, ways I like to feel in what venues, activity-biases and condition proclivities (even though those nearest me often say they’d never know it by my choices).

Maybe the Phenomenon of Plasticity hypothesis runneling its now-scientific way through the cosmos and further than cells is a living CAPACITY but not necessarily a QUALITY?  Accident not essence?  Perhaps plasticity suits the powers-that-be, our politico-socio-cultural nowthen (STEM disciplines, Markets, Politics & Capital, Networks & Technologies) that would love for us adapt and adjust, go-along and “flow” as if its “natural,” “observable” and “scientific fact”?  (At the moment).

I’m not disputing it’s COOL – our abilities to change and flex, evolve and habituate, refashion and conform – and indeed it’s often necessary for our survival – but there’s a gap, hesitation, incompleteness to the story.  It doesn’t “FIT” to experience, or only partially so.  Something’s being assumed underneath.

And what is that?  Why have I preferred preferring others to my own, yet not ceased having my own all these years?

How would I be if I believed ALL were equally plastic?  That it wasn’t my job to adjust to everyone, remake to everything around me, instead insisting upon their/its relative capacity to reshape and orient to me as well?

WHAT WOULD I WANT if I could “be myself” (express my consistent biases and longings, behaviors and thought-trajectories, mood-palette and drives) in environments in which I was enabled/able to be/do so?  A surround that exercised the capacity of plasticity in relation to ME?


Granted, some do, (those that stick around or don’t realize a choice) and in varying degrees, but I seldomly bank on that and announce or convey myself…usually I hedge against abandonment or rejection – fear of pains winning out over hopes of pleasure.

That’s “natural” too, the disciplines say – but there are so many counter-examples: ones who openly state their “I would prefer not tos” or “I would prefers…”  What have they got on me in this plasticized universe?


There’s expression:  I prefer finding questions.  Ferreting unknowns.

FOR myself – there, I’ve done it.  At least once today.



Moments: The reality of accrual and depletion, growth and diminishment


“It is of the essence of life that it does not begin here or end there, or connect a point of origin with a final destination, but rather that it keeps on going, finding a way through the myriad things that form, persist and break up in its currents.”

Tim Ingold – Being Alive: Essays on knowledge, movement and description

            In the reading journal I keep, I record what I read each day in entries numbered according to my years.  For instance, today is Day 364 of 43.  Each day counts UP the days I have lived, simultaneously counting DOWN the days I have left.

If our weight in the world is conspired via our capacity for object-making, “perception,” – how we collate and identify active collective of particles, lending them shape and color, space and duration – in effect: “organize them according to our own purposes and facilities” – co-creating manageable entities with which we might interact and navigate life “sensibly” (body-minded)

then the “lightness” of vitality/movement/being comes from the constant (relatively frenetic) buzz and action of the unseen particles composing and constituting the scales we are able to perceive and conceive.

Does this sound workable?  I trust that I am a hive of vibrating, exchanging, bounding, colliding and connecting atoms/molecules/whatever, and that to certain interlinked bundles of material interactivities this can appear, be sensed, perceived, interacted with, as an apparently distinct “organism/being/organization of activities” constructing (or being constructed/perceived AS) almost a form, a differance, an “object.”

And likewise, and vice-versa.

Particles, drilled down or zoomed out in their interactivities and motion form ever-varying “wholes” (temporarily composed perceptible forms or variable entities).  Thus poets and scientists, thus Ovid and religions, philosophers…HUMANS…METAPHOR.  Taking various realities for another and one another, or, ALWAYS – in relation to.

Crossing and dipping, perceiving/conceiving, we are able to invent scenarios and subjects, conduits and concretions, whereby we are also able to communicate, invent, share, cognize imaginative possibilities for our temporary coagulates (or “life-forms,” ever active and morphing).  The tinier particles simply continue their trajectories and behaviors while their collaborated forms appear to be “born” (or formulated, occurring) and die (or dissolve, dismember, separate to join in other alignments, reactions and compounds).

Thinking is a lucky pleasure of our particular combo-formulations, as love, emotion, felt embodiment, enmindedness, entanglements…

I am grateful for all of it: lovely purposeful accidents to sense, perceive, grow, change, become, decease, connect and disconnect…attach and release…combine and unravel.

IN THE MIDST of which…and this is where the trembling, shifting, unstable, particularly and elaborately conditioned partial perception “I” initially chose (in languaging) to begin…”in the midst of…”

but then I realized that MIDST might beggar a belief-explanation (theory) as to what I was beginning in the midst of…ALWAYS…this strange living process…and so I diverted through the above contingent caveat.

i.e. EVERYTHING DEPENDS.  On context, formulations, occasions, circumstances, surroundings, kind, type, species, conditions composing NOW.

There is some longevity to “sticking together” (successfully? Symbiotically? Interactively linked or bonded for some formal survivable persistence) but it’s all quite temporary (the place-time from which an opinion is held or conceived, promulgated…changes slightly with each moment, more in an hour, a day, each “year,” each…occurrence).

To say: all is active and contingent.  I.e. DEPENDS – on multitudes of very specific things, unseen tiny things, enormous systemic things, situations, arrangements being…”the case.”

A Hal Hartley film or a novel by Dostoevsky, the face of my child or the sound waves of song; the body and voice of my beloved…won’t have any “effect” “meaning” “sense” when my particles realign and this particular arrangement is “dead,” “decayed,” “reorganized.”

Activity is a curious thing.

Although we experience “age,” “knowledge,” “experience,” as a kind of “growth” or accretion, it isn’t very long at all in our formulating as a human before we become profoundly aware that our “growth” is an indicator of cessation, “progress” a sign of our undoing…dismantling, shifting, and changing.

This central comprehension of human systems – paradoxical tension, momentary accretion/diminishment – likely fuels much of the emotion, trauma, passion, energy, delight, grief, disturbances and elations of our particular species instinctual cognitively embodied behaviors.

Angst, joy, terror, hope – perhaps all of these reside in this mysterious yin-yang of coming together / coming apart AT ONCE and ALWAYS.  Each addition is a removal, each connection another breakage, each revelation a forgetting.  Each next accrues a last and never.

NOW – the pivot point of addition/subtraction – for human living.

I crave, delight, wonder, rejoice, and find my survival with each NEXT while grieving, losing, aching, suffering, and ceasing with each movement as well.

There is no choice in the matter (that I can see) – it happens.  Everything we do effects and disaffects inherently.

Rising indeed IS falling.  Growing IS diminishing.  Living truly IS dying, while our dying is yet living for something else…Reciprocal, ongoing, continuous realignments.  Any departure is a novel thing joined.

And thus, simply process, simply going-on.  Not “us” but it.  Not you, I, we, but the particles and universal systems, arrangements.

And we, in the midst.

Perhaps.  That’s how I’m thinking it today.

As I count up and down the days.


The Idea of Maturity (continued) – “Have a ‘good enough’ day”

“Since early years I have been cursed or blessed with a habit of mind – a character defect it may be – that likes to turn over problems that have no solution, or at least no solution that can be provided outside of thought itself (if there).”

– John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding

This concept of “maturity” as I encountered it in John Armstrong’s Conditions of Love is caught like a burl in my system.  Maturity as “not the idea, but the actual reduction of expectation.”  Maturity is reductive.  Is that so?  Is the process of human living a progress of delimitation, scoping the range of experience to our actual organismic potentials?  Process, progress, growth not expansive, extending operations, but boundarying and restraining limitations to our hopes?

I take my “problems” to my therapist.  They always come back to me changed.  “And what are the sources of expectation?” he asked.  “Expectation is sourced in the past / oriented toward the future,” he answered.  “If you reduce it – “YOU. ARE. HERE.”



Whenever I “get” something like that, I noticed I want to take off with it.  Like a skipping stone, I feel inspired and start leaping the surface of things – making connections with this concept and that image, this thinker and that artist, that idea and this experience… activating PATTERNS from my past and projecting POSSIBILITIES toward the future… LEAVING THE PRESENT.

My therapist/guru(?) has been investigating the neuroscience of enlightenment – or being awake to reality / the actual…

…and working with the brain and body to (perhaps) soak or sink there

rather than skip along the surface from PAST toward FUTURE

My helpmeet described this as an interesting and fascinating capacity of brains excited by the ineffable to apply TOP-DOWN (or metacognitive, reflective, intentional attention, interpretive) strategies to BOTTOM-UP (automatic, subconscious, pattern-oriented, limbic or reactionary, survival-based) strategies in order to, in a way, burl them – mesh them – unite them with WHAT IS – the Umwelt – our actual EXPERIENCE of BEING a living organism PRESENTLY.

We NEED both strategies to survive, and thrive.  Much of our life-world is uncertain and unknown to us – much we will never KNOW in any sense like “understand” or “comprehend.”  Life constantly HAPPENS.  We are quite limited, reduced, in our capacity to TAKE-IN, ABSORB, “com-prehend” (apprehend-with) all that our life-bubbles afford us and confront us with each moment… We NEED the emotive, reactive, pattern-based knee-jerk reactions to navigate much that could be life threatening (thought not much IS these days – WHAT IF something IS?)…no time to reflect or discourse or meta-cognize it if a car or snake or fire is about to strike you… but we also NEED the reflective, metacognitive capacities to distinguish between what is ACTUALLY life-threatening and what is ONGOING EXPERIENCE – opportunity – potential to comprehend, learn, understand, adapt, adjust, in-corporate, BE WITH.

That middle-point : tension-place : meeting-space (“like the appropriate tension of a string on a violin” he said) is perhaps where Armstrong’s maturity IS.  Reduced to the present, what’s happening, our actualizing experience – NOT skipping the surface of automated connections drawn from past experience and projected toward possible futures…

In other words (again, in his words)

Lord - Motto

On Change, Perception and the Idea of Maturity

John Armstrong’s The Conditions of Love is obviously far from through with me, and I with it.  My encounter with this writing has challenged me in so many ways.  Principally, I think, in querying my bases of knowledge in neuroscience, literature, philosophy, psychology and art – and struggling what is known (or supposed, or observed) in these disciplines toward our lived experience of love, of loss, of change, of survival.  Our brains, our stories, our bodies are all so very highly attuned to patterns in our world, perception, experience…how does that work itself out in our lives of loving and losing, changing and adapting?  What is difficult, what is beautiful in such behavior and practice?  What do domain-specific, developed human disciplines offer us in our mind/body organismic goings-on?

Maturity - John Armstrong

Enormous changes…you could say…REQUIRE all sorts of perspectival changes.

If only, simply, to adapt to the new WORLDS initiated by the universe-altering adjustments that major life changes (positive, negative, or, usually, BOTH) introduce:  couplings and separations / relocations / employment, vocation, education / grief, loss, birth, reduction, addition / success and failure and so on…

Our experiential/perceptual “worlds” have been aptly described and ascribed as Umwelten (see also – Paul Bains, Primacy of Semiosis).  In drastically simplified form: the concept that we are (each sort of organism) evolved in such a way as to perceive and engage with that in our environments that pertains to our survival and flourishing, our continuance of existence.  Those elements or that structuring and interacting with what we select out of our replete environments and surroundings – including ourselves – constitutes our Umwelt – our little “life-world” – species-specific bubble of “reality” (what is real to us, for us).

The sorts of change(s) that provoke potential for maturity tend (I think) to be changes that evince larger (or larger-scaled) patterns of experience and events (although all the minute alterations ever occurring – to the attentive and aware – also constitute mature adaptations for the human – the meditator recognizes the flux in each moment and works to adapt to this flux with openness and acceptance) – in other words, such things as by their very occurrence create/disrupt/introduce significant and substantial structural alterations – profoundly unavoidable – changes to the content AND context of the individual organisms perceptual/experiential SURROUND.

Changes (like those listed above) that, if NOT adapted or adjusted to, evidence a socially recognizable UNreality – a person clearly maladapted to the realities of their situations.  An example would be CHANGE or DIE; ADAPT or FAIL in some socially undeniable sense.

ADAPTING – in a “to-obvious-Umwelt-alteration-sense” is what I comprehend as an instance of maturity (a la Armstrong).

The loss of a child or spouse or health or limb.  New employment, habitat, geography.  Freshly developed abilities, knowledge, or lost capacities or income.  New love, memory, trauma – and so on – all represent an altered human Umwelt – adaptation to the ever-changing “reality” would be an instance of maturity – while maladaptation/denial/resistance would be a kind of instantiation of insanity – dis- or mis-alignment/-integration/-accordance to the altered Umwelt/environment/world-circumstance/perceivable “reality.”

Maturity then is our relatively accurate adjustment and adaptation to – our expectations and perceptions – to the “realities” of our ALWAYS-changing life-world.

I think Armstrong is right that we have a love/hate relationship to maturity.  It is something I (we?) HATE and HOPE for – the changes in our personal and public worlds so mostly beyond our control – air quality, abandonment, accident, reward, attention, ignor-ance, and so on.  As he puts it: “maturity is not the idea but the actual reduction of expectation.  That is why we fear as well as desire maturity.”  I question whether the adaptation is always “reductive” – in some cases, where we tend to be ruled by “patterns” (our past, our available information, our individual perceptions, our nature/culture development, etc.) maturity would constitute expanding, extending and opening our perceptions to the wider, complex and dynamic possibilities of an ever-changing life-world (I think).

For myself:  I HATE it (the death and loss implied in honest, authentic reductive maturity – mapping my individuality to my actual surroundings and situations) – I often resent and resist the ongoing change – erosion and eruptions – of the world I’m embedded in.  AND I WELCOME it – the reality-check of it, the alteration, breath, fresh potentials of “new worlding” that constant change instigates and offers.

As if our “realities” were 1000 plateaus – layered, indistinct, overlapping, vague and enmeshed.  As if “reality” were only (for me) what is perceivable (to me) and a dramatically altered Umwelt STRIKES into me whole new wild conceptions of what the world might be.  Reduction / Expansion.  Every change offers this.  The death (amputation, loss, etc.) and birth (regeneration, appendices, new growth).  Every vacancy corresponds with potential and unknown occupancy and vice-versa…

Or so I’m thinking…at this moment in this circumstance…

“Questioning places us in relation with what evades every question and exceeds all power of questioning…it seems that we question more than we are able to question”

-Maurice Blanchot-

…and so it goes…

On Love

I will be up front with you:  this post is a failure.  If I were able to comprehend, understand or express what it is I have been struggling with myself to grasp and communicate – I would also have the expressive powers to irresistibly beckon my love.

Like many poets and artists, I am not a stranger to great expressions of love.  Tales of romance, of idealism, of sacrifice and charity.  Of endurance, persistence, obstacles and joy.  Of passion, beauty, devotion and charm.  Many of us spend the bulk of our lives searching it, attempting to become both loving and lovable, generous and worthy.

What I have wrestled with this past week is how I might convince all of you who have an interest in its meaning, its practice, its enjoyment and its pain that a book I have spent much time reading and reflecting over the past two weeks is worth your full attention.  It is entitled The Conditions of Love: the philosophy of intimacy and is written by John Armstrong.

Armstrong - Conditions of Love

For a while now I have been making effort at examining the “intolerable vulnerabilities” that intimacy evokes in us.  Armstrong addresses these in a deep variety of ways, such as “love craves closeness, and closeness always brings us face to face with something other than we expected.”  Upon meditating my way through his profound expository book, I have added “incalculable equation” to my sense of love.  “Most people are, it goes without saying, sometimes pathetic and sometimes quite competent…reciprocity requires us to hold in mind a complex image of our own nature.”  My felt sense upon concluding his words (and those of so many others he includes ever so skillfully) – was a strange sense that love combines the profound gravity of grief and the profound levity of hope.  

It is instructive to understand what Armstrong intends by a philosophical account of intimacy:  “One of the things which philosophy can do is to try to flesh out, with as much precision as the case allows, just what is at stake in the concepts we use.”  And he performs this so deftly.  “Hence the more subtle our thinking about love, the more intelligently we discriminate ideals from reality, the more interesting our autobiography becomes.”  His is the thinking of the ‘pandoxist.’  “A pandoxist doesn’t locate all the important insights and truths about life in a single system, but tries to seize upon the multitude of truths and insights which are located in many distinct – and often antagonistic – positions…most great systems of thought are founded upon lasting insights…but we generally don’t need to be completely consistent in our thinking…we are attempting to enrich our repertoire of ideas…thoughts which will be helpful at different times and in different situations.”  The Conditions of Love satisfies this expertly.

The book has been written.  I cannot possibly improve on it, and, although I’d dream of trying – what I most desire is that more humans will engage it toward the extension and enrichment of their lives and the relations they involve .  With that in mind I will simply copy some of my underscored passages from Armstrong’s writing – hopefully to successfully convince you that it could benefit you, too.

“The suggestion that love is deep carries the implication that it emerges from deep within us and that it reaches something deep within us.  It carries with it an image of the personality as layered.”

“Love isn’t a single thing but a complex of different concerns gives rise to a vision of some of the problems of love.  When we try to love we are not actually trying to undertake a single endeavour; rather, we are trying to do a whole range of different, and sometimes not very compatible, things simultaneously.”

“We need love, we have an inbuilt need to love and be loved, yet the two sexes have divergent evolutionary and genetic notions of how love works.  The unhappiness of love is the fault of the evolution of the species…which undertakes to show how extremely complex emotions and thoughts are enacted in material processes.”

“to show that love is natural is not in fact to show anything very important…what is given by nature is not necessarily good, and what is achieved by artifice is not necessarily worthless…the experience of love is open to change, but only in some ways.”

“Compatibility is an achievement of love, not a precondition for love…there is no such thing as perfect compatibility, therefore all loving relationships must accomodate some degree of incompatibility.”

“Perhaps the most fundamental fact of human experience is that the experience of being oneself differs radically from the experience we have of others…no other person can complete us…this is something we have to do for ourselves, even if we are lucky enough to find another person who is helpful and supportive and whose character tends to bring out the best in us.”

“friendship is a species of love…there is something about their mode of being, about the texture of their inner life, which seems familiar…it is when we discover, or suspect, some intimate correspondence between our own secret self and that of the other that we begin to move from liking to loving.”

“the very needs which take us into love play a role in the souring of love.”

“love involves a reorientation of our concerns.  We are in the habit of being immensely preoccupied by what immediately concerns our own well-being…yet caring for something, or someone, other than oneself can be immensely liberating.”

“the irony is that the more we invest in love, the harder it can be to love successfully.  To love another person often requires that we have further and independent sources of satisfaction and security in our lives.”

“of course it can be disturbing, even terrifying, to admit insufficiency to ourselves.  ‘Why do I need another person? Because I cannot be happy on my own?’  For some people at least, that is too painful an admission.  We sometimes avoid our need for love because it casts us in a vulnerable role…It suggests how deep the need for love goes in us, how hard it sometimes is for us to recognize what it is we are looking for, and how hard it is going to be for someone else to satisfy those needs.”

“infatuation – can be driven not just by a mistake about the other person (thinking they are nicer than they really are) but by a mistake about oneself (wanting to be other than one is)…in infatuation, we use another person as a prop in a fantasy about ourselves.”

“many persons imagine that it is the quality of current feeling that matters; in fact, current feeling is no guide for behaviour under multiple strains and stresses.  What infatuation does is to consecrate the present feeling and protect it from serious investigation.  Imagination paints a charming view of the future, conveniently adapted to the demands of our current situation.”

“Cupid is the name of whatever it is in us which, without our consent or recognition, provokes the intense longing for attachment which we call falling in love…the fear of love as irrational is not simply the fear that love is in its genesis outside of our control, but that it is not amenable to reason once it is up and running.”

“the forces which make us long for another person to love – loneliness, the need for warmth and tenderness – can be so great that we behave as if we were starving…desperation overrides discrimination…the process of falling in love may be governed not by the intelligent sense of what is good for us but by unconscious forces which cause us to get attached to someone with whom we can – like an addict – repeat a self-harming pleasure – ‘this person is for me’ may be, ironically, true and yet true only in that we have identified a potential source of our preferred misery…a relationship does not start the day two people meet; it starts in the childhood of each partner.  for it is long before they meet that the template of their relationship is established.  We learn to love as children.  Or, more accurately, we learn a style of relating which governs our adult behaviour when it comes to love.”

“much depends on the way in which we find in them someone with whom we can continue the unfinished business of childhood…there is something about this person which coheres with an earlier pattern…Falling in love, then, is a result of two thing coming together: the longings which we have and the workings of our imagination.”

“Our sense of who another person really is is massively inflected by our own concerns…what it is to understand a person – involves having a clear conception of what that person’s real needs and qualities are – a conception which can be radically at variance with the self-image of that person.”

“Love alone can’t make another adult intelligent, generous, courageous, persistent and sociable – unless they are very close to possessing these qualities in the first place…it is axiomatic that people can be wrong about what is good for them; that is, they can be wrong about what will make them happy.  This is one of the key reasons why there is so much unhappiness in the world.”

“To love is to interpret another person with charity…of course we habitually go beyond the facts when we find fault with or condemn another…Anger and resentment are frequently founded upon what we suppose another person has intended, rather than on what we actually know about their motives.  Charity, therefore, need not ascribe benign motives, but keeps open the possibility that one doesn’t know what really goes on in another’s heart of hearts…to step aside is human…a charitable interpretation seeks out good qualities underneath evident failings and inadequacies – and take a sympathetic view of those failings..requiring a complex image of our own nature.”

“Most accounts of existence place love at the centre of life.  We live in order to grow in love – that is the meaning and purpose of each individual life.”

“Love requires the integration of all our powers: we have to be sensual, but also understanding; we need to be able to relax with our beloved, but must equally exercise self-control; we have to mix spontaneity with foresight; passionate, devouring sexual desire has to be tempered with respect…”

“What is wrong with capitalism is not so much that it fosters an unjust distribution of wealth but rather that it damages the personalities of all those who live within it, cutting each individual off from the realization of the true nature, giving rise to internal – as well as external – obstacles to love…If we have to devote our best energies, almost all of our time, to making a living, and if in doing so we have to become competitive, or ruthless, we don’t have much of ourselves left over for love.  We can only love on the margins of our lives and with the residue of our capacities…Love, which stands as the natural goal of living, is massively subordinated to the pursuit of the means of living.”

“the reality, here, is that we invest the people we encounter – particularly those we get close to – with characteristics which are not really their own but which derive from our own earlier relationships…construction and transference is an unconscious process – one which we are not only unaware of but which we positively resist becoming aware of.”

“Love, then, can never be the coming together of two perfectly compatible creatures.  We are not like jigsaw pieces which can, if only we find the correct piece, lock together in perfect accord.  It is as if each person actually belongs to several jigsaws at once and hence fits perfectly into none.”

“Much of the resulting pain of adult life can be traced back to the ways in which the child deals with ambivalence…it is impossible to have a loving relationship which does not involve negative aspects…because a perfectly right partner will still evoke fears and anxieties in us, will still – because of connections back to the roots of love and fear in childhood – become an object of envy or jealousy, will still be the privileged object of our aggression and disappointment…”

“Sex is direct, whereas love is diffuse.  Sometimes we need love to be made obvious – and sex is one of the most powerful ways in which this can happen…the troubling fact is that two positions are correct: we are inherently jealous and sexual desire is distinct from love.  To accept both claims is to admit a degree of incoherence in human nature…this is an invitation to be more imaginative about dignity.”

“Recuperation is essential to the survival of love because it is inevitable that love will come up against serious difficulties…the point is that even within a good relationship there are continual sources of hurt and disappointment which have to be overcome if love is to survive…their overcoming is actually the growth and development of loving…it is, therefore, extremely important that we work with a vision of love which sees problems not as the end of love, not as a sign that love is over, but as the ground upon which love operates.

“This is the internal tragedy of love.  If love is successful, if our love is returned and develops into a relationship, the person we are with must turn out to be other than we imagined them to be…security can put us off our guard…the notion of maturity is humanity’s attempt to retain an optimistic picture of love in the face of disappointment and difficulty.”

“Maturity is our name for the hopeful strategy which is open to us when faced with something which is both an object of high value (a source of happiness) and, at the same time, threatening, difficult, disturbing..the very things which draw us into love and enable us to invest so highly in another person, to wish to bind our lives together, themselves give rise to disillusionment, frustration, disappointment, and evoke some of our deepest fears and most primitive defences.  What we mean by maturity is a change of perspective.”

“In this book I have tried to argue two things…Firstly, the need to love and be loved is deeply placed in human nature – we long to be understood, to be close to another person, to matter in another’s life…the factors which draw us into love also constitute the roots of love’s difficulties.  We long to be understood, but it is often awkward to have another see too much of one’s inner troubles…we do not go through life with a coherent set of desires, and anyone who charms us in one frame of mind may be annoying or threatening in another.  Secondly, love is an achievement, it is something we create, individually, not something which we just find…and yet it cannot be forced simply by effort…it is dependent on many other achievements – kindness of interpretations, sympathy and understanding, a sense of our own needs, and terrible vulnerability…each requires patient cultivation – we have to take whatever fragile presence each has in our lives and build upon that…in order to unlock our passions, recognize our need for another, and see our present loneliness…”

and so on – i simply took a quote or two from each chapter – hopefully you can imagine the depth of the whole…and will enjoy it for yourselves….!

see also:de Botton - On Love


Conclusion to the Gift that Explodes : Final Page


and the typeset:


Taking Root, Using Your Woods

For this is how we come to woods – they come to us.  Ancient are the lineages and deep the roots of almost every wood we encounter.  Your woods, my child, though freely belonging to anyone, are also and quite absolutely, your own.  You see, we come to learn our woods through time and play, experiment and work.  Those woods you train yourself with, that you fondle and prune and water and grow – those woods will change right along with you.  With time and your own adjustments, growth and adaptations to all within and around you – these woods will shape those changes in you and you will select, alter and use each of your woods in your very own specific and particularized manner…in every moment, experience, and time.

It may not be long before one of us departs with The Leavings, and with such a season you may seek out woodless spaces for a while.  There is nothing wrong with leaving woods behind for a time.  You will invariably find yourself among thickets of woods you do not recognize, are unfamiliar, or being used in ways you had not imagined.  Remember, my dear one – this world is large and uncontained – we cannot master it – it is crowded and flush with persons and woods.  Incessantly they are changing, every moment – the woods and their peoples, and the peoples’ selection and uses of woods.  Many will offer you groves unwanted, wealds of woods you do not know, clumsy lumber for your yearning purpose.

Remember to breathe and look far, my dear, take your time and search their roots.  Nearly any wood can be partially known from its seed taking root and its clamorous growth.  Woods are formed of winds and waters, weathers and disparate soils – they are bound to have unique characteristics and histories, varieties and sources – learning these will help you find your way among them.  While hardly a simple task – its effort carries its own worth.

Then you may come to feel comfort in whatever woods construct the bosk where you are – they can speak to you, and you with them – becoming another precious person of the wood.

You have so much to offer us, as the forests of woods do you – all the many woodlands spread throughout our homelands, neighborhoods, countrysides and world – many, yes, loved child, many woodlands yet to be invented, discovered or known – and you, sweet forested one, growing now among them, taking roots, assembling branches and leaf piles and canopies, or ships with broad docks and high towers, realms and copses, barrels and fires and beds – as you learn to love and use your woods, multiply and form them – oh what wonders await us all!

Take your roots, then, gather seeds, use your woods – let them grow and shape you – plant, sprout and remake them!  All woods you engage are yours while you are in them!  So live, darling wonder, live and learn and create!  Staying open to woods – testing and investing and proclaiming them!  Even logging them for records or constructions, be certain to renew, and create!

and the final product of the little gifted notebook from my lovely daughter, sussing me through these holidays

Notebook - Ida