Elatia Harris

Valentine’s Day approaches. Are we a romantic bunch?  Or, what?

Last month, the 3QD Valentine’s Day Challenge was issued. Learning about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Berlin (it really does exist…), I asked readers to write in with an artifact that deserved to go on view there. It need not be a concrete artifact, but could be a memory, an idea, a painting, or a puppy, and anonymized entries were welcome. To say one word more than that would be to seriously take the fun out of what follows.

Our First Anonymized Tale


During my life I have been blessed to experience several unforgettable relationships, At least five were romantic, two of which were nothing but pure lust. Others were intimate in the Platonic sense. You are wise to allow anonymous stories. Otherwise this little fling could be dangerously combustible. It’s a variation on the “Post Secret” notion.

The only artifact I can recall suitable for your exhibit would be a wire screen on a summer cabin in the North Georgia woods. I had a summer job on staff at the camp less than a year after the most unforgettable crush of my adult life. A tour of duty in the Army had left me emotionally drained and desperately in need of love. Like a hanging ripe fruit I fell totally and wonderfully full force into an unforgettable relationship lasting almost a year. To this day, some four decades later, the memories remain fresh and promising, and I do understand how people in their declining years can rekindle long-lost loves after a lifetime of separation.

But the screen…

I knew the romance was done. Irretrievably and permanently relegated to the shelves of memory. And I could say with truth that it really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But the pain of separation remained a little raw. There was healing yet to be done.

One still, hot afternoon I was alone, getting a cabin ready for the next camp.  I sat down alone to take a break in the common area and noticed one of the screens. The angle of light in the afternoon sun caught the image of some writing scrawled on that screen years before.

Young campers discovered that toothpaste could be used to put graffiti on the screens. Since toothpaste would wash off with a water hose, it was harmless enough, so the powers that might otherwise forbid such mischief let it pass. Besides, the place was already covered with other graffiti done in felt-tip markers so more scribbling here and there didn’t matter.

There on that screen I could discern the name of my lost love, left there probably some ten or more years before when she was a little girl off at summer camp. Tears came to my eyes as I remembered our times together and I cried briefly for that lost experience. That shimmering image of a little girl’s name scrawled on a screen was God’s way of letting me know that although no one else would ever know, He understood and would help me recover and get on with the rest of my life.

I submit that screen for your collection.

Poetry Counts Here

Last month, Jim Culleny became the poetry editor of 3QD, and we’ve seen lots more poetry since then. Here’s a poem he wrote for us on today’s theme.

In My Museum of Busted Love
Jim Culleny


1. Ring

In my museum of busted love
would first be the engagement
ring of inertia

the sign urged upon greenhorns
when the young pulse of biology
meets the  traditional need to rein it in
and set it to the pace of Eros
in civilized society:

the circus maximus of fidelity,
the merry-go-round of oughts
of lust and love
–the diamond ring I one day reclaimed
with an ardent,

Display that once dazzling rock
beside the big one called Hope
in the museum’s Hall of Almost,
and watch it diminish
in the glare of possibility
to the luminescence
of dull inevitability.

2. Car

And of course there would be my tiny TR3,
a courtship vehicle of desperate love:

its bucket seat of impossible sex,
its inconvenient gear shift,
its shock absorbers announcing
the illicit choreography within,
bouncing its comical, dead serious,
life-altering profundity.

Put it and all its dents upon a dais
at an car show under hot spots
next to a Porsche.

Adorn it with a fender babe
in plenty of flesh and lurid pout
and let it tell its fun-filled
soon sad but torrid tale.

3. Insight

And last
(but way more than least)
at the gallery’s back door
near the broom closet
in a glass case unlit and forlorn,
passed by countless tenderfeet
hip and horny, tattooed, pierced,
bristling with ipods, iphones,
and lost in Myspace ,
seething with tech knowledge
but clueless as  lovers
suffering the old implacable
urge of hormones in love
that doomed unwired Romeo
and foolishly unconscious Juliet
to live and die their misconceptions
in the pages of a play-write

… there upon a simple bronze base,
ignored but brilliant in its banalityLoversmagritte
sits the sweet fruit of my own

turf fight:

the Bubered wink of battered,
bruised, and tardy


Men with Special Boxes — They Have Them, Too

Quondam 3QD contributor Josh Smith:

I am a sentimental man. By sentimental I don’t mean in the coarse way, like weeping along with fluff films, or incessantly scribbling little notes and drawings in my Moleskine. Rather, I appreciate memories for what they are. So I keep, well, keepsakes. Little tidbits of life. Real, visceral pieces of my material existence. “Proof,” as Duane Michals would call it. And where better the need for proof than my story of love.

This “Museum of Broken Relationships” is quite an interesting project, especially considering that I feel I’ve done it first (albeit only for myself). My own museum rests in the tiny front closet of my tiny studio apartment, itself a tiny little box that sits a little precariously above other boxes. (Recently, old keepsakes were moved to this new box from an older box, which had scrawled on it, in terrible, large-print, felt marker: “MEMORY TYPE STUFF.”) Here rest the remains of my broken relationships, from notes passed in school to movie stubs from first dates.

I struggled hard to imagine which artifact I would relinquish, which one would do the most justice to my story. But then I began to think about the museum itself. I thought about the museum, the one in Berlin and the one in my box. I thought about how all the pieces in the Berlin museum would weave a sort of story about their people, and the place they held and hold in their lives. Here are all these stories, somehow connected, telling us things about ourselves, from the admittedly crazy to the bittersweet.

And I realized that my own museum must remain intact. Whether it sits on a pedestal in Berlin or a shelf in suburban Maryland, it must remain part of a story. Its doors should always remain a little open. It should always sit a little precariously. And should always be open to its own kind of revisionism.

Now I realize that all this sentimentalizing, this whole, heavy chest of lost love, can become some sad weight on a person. Ever since I gave the film Citizen Kane its first true watching, I’ve always worried that my intense desire for love has and would echo that of poor Mr. Kane. Remember what they said about him? “That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love.” And what did Kane do, when he couldn’t fill his world with love? He tried to fill it with keepsakes. From around the world, he bought and brought to his estate the world’s finest animals and artwork, making it a museum of a lovely world that always just eluded him.

Kane’s museum was a sad one. It was a museum that immortalized a struggle. But sentimental does not mean sad. The kind of museum I aspire to, whether it be in my box of “MEMORY TYPE STUFF,” or the more biological museum between my ears, is one of sentimental wisdom. The memories kept in such places will always be simultaneously glowing and fading away. They must be understood as a story, where one can reorder them and give them new meaning. Then, the “proof” that someone loved you, or that you were simply “naïve back then,” won’t just be some silly cop-out. Instead, you grow. You become reordered. And you always remain just a little precariously placed.

if yIris ensata

From Santa Cruz, blogger and Web designer Vicki Baker:

1_1_2“Growing Japanese iris (Iris ensata) is a matter of getting several components properly combined. “

I guess it was an unusual combination of components that allowed 2 people in their 20’s, with just out of college incomes, to play house renovation in a 3-story Victorian with a carved oak staircase.  Given that neither of us liked to do things in a half-assed way, or pay someone else to, it was too much, I had to run away.

The house I can think about without a pang; the last time I saw it, it was filled up with the new girlfriend’s ugly furniture.

The garden is a different matter. Here’s where I have to admit something a bit unsavory: I stalk that garden. My ex and I don’t speak, but, I visit his personal web site periodically to check on the garden pictures he posts there. Probably he knows, I’m sure in his nerdiness he looks at the IP addresses of his visitors.

Apparently, despite the fact that he used to call all flowers “daffodils,” and never turned a spade the entire time I was with him, he is quite capable of gardening.  Or maybe it’s the new wife. So, a bit of resentment mixed in with the delight of seeing old friends that sprouted on the propagation table in the damp half-finished basement.

There’s one flower that never shows up in these pictures, though – the japanese iris. The only iris that can be raised true from seed. To survive they need a complicated regimen of flooding and drying out at the right times.  But their beauty knocks you out – spectacular and at the same time somehow refined. Maybe I should have taken a rhizome or a seed pod, but I didn’t, and now they’re gone, and  I haven’t had the heart to try again.

He used to make fun of me, a bit, when I was so delighted that my seeds actually sprouted. That’s what seeds are supposed to do, after all. But the thing is, so often they don’t. The temperature is wrong, some seeds need darkness, others light, it’s all complicated.

Like when you go off the pill, there’s supposed to be some period of adjustment, you don’t conceive right away. But after a year or two years…  When you play house, there’s supposed to be a baby, right?

But then you meet someone, someone electrifying. Someone not tied to this place, someone who is in fact looking for the fastest possible escape from what suddenly seems to be a gloomy, gray, bigoted, provincial town.

And then it seems that a seed might be sprouting after all. But it’s like you mixed up the markers on the seed tray, you don’t know which seed it is. And then it seems like the thing you’ve been wishing for with all your heart is now the thing that is going to trap you somewhere you don’t want to be, forever.

But before any decision can be reached, the sprout itself decides it’s not ready for daylight, or maybe there’s something wrong with the growing medium.

But the trapped feeling cannot be forgotten, escape cannot come too soon. And some things get left behind in the rush.

Not That Kind of Romantic

Fridaphotoparrot_2Novelist Thalassa Ali tells us she’s less romantic than her protagonist, Mariana:

Sorry — I’m not that kind of romantic, although if I had been Mariana, I might have sent in the scarlet wedding outfit with the gold and silver embroidered dupatta that never got taken off her in A Singular Hostage. Of course she hadn’t allowed Hassan take it off, but this is about regret, isn’t it, either for things that didn’t happen, or for things that did, but shouldn’t have?

What broke the heart of nurse and blogger beajerry?

I’d have to answer that question with alternative medicine. Back in the early nineties when herbal medicine seemed to be taking off and Dr. Weil was gaining fame, I was a believer.  I so wanted that stuff to work.  Echinacea, Sal Palmetto, Ginkgo, Ginseng, zinc, etc. etc. – I was all for it.  My usual skeptical vigil seemed lax during the time and as, one-by-one, the herbal promises fell I became disheartened.

Sure, it taught me to never doubt my skepticality (that’s an awesome sentence!), but the romantic thoughts of high-health via herbs was a sweet dream that I still miss. The data may not all be in on it all, but the slow churn of science doesn’t bode well for herbs and alternative medicine so far. Is it all fraudulent — or just misguided?  I think both (worthless amounts of true herbs and much charlatanry.)

At least I knew from the get-go that homeopathy was bunk.

Blogger Ruchira Paul told me her emotional life was very healthy and had always been. Before I could say how stunned I was to know anyone who could make that claim, she offered a donation to the Museum of Broken Relationships on behalf of someone else not so lucky. “It’s probably just the place for Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress covered with ‘presidue,'” she wrote.

Definitely That Kind of a Romantic

Another anonymized entry — yes, you would recognize her name. As follows —

In a somewhat unexpected turn, in the middle of writing my piece for this broken relationship post, the relationship I’m in (was in?) broke.  It seems that this assignment is actually now one of these trite/triste artifacts for me.  Please accept my apology: I’m not going to submit anything for this post.  Maybe just you and I can  know that my absence is in keeping with the theme.

The two collages above and below right were created especially for this post by the extraordinary Mica Hubertus Mick of New Zealand, an internationally exhibiting artist in many media.

Mica1_1_2 From aguy109

When I broke off with a certain woman, many years ago, I sent her back all the endless letters she sent me, written mostly on the back of used computer print out, and the nude photos I had taken of her. I bundled them all into an empty washing powder carton, taped and posted it.   I suppose that carton with all the computer printout would look good on a shelf of that museum in Berlin, if only because of the subtext about the virtues of recycling.

From economist and 3QD columnist Beth Ann Bovino

Regarding your query “If I were to donate an artifact to the Museum of Broken Relationships, what would it be?”Mica2

It would be to take all our love letters and shape them into flowers… for the funeral.  The body will be all the bitter mail at the end (from both of us), burnt and put into a cremation urn (a dunkin doughnut’s coffee cup).

An anonymized reader tells us the following story.

The item I would contribute to the Museum of Broken Relationships is half of a sea urchin shell, which symbolizes the broken and the hallowed love I still hold so dear.

Robert was twice my 26 years. He saved me. He built up my self-esteem slowly over time. We were soulfully connected. One time he picked a lemon twenty miles from where I stood and simultaneously my olfactory sense was filled with the fresh sweet smell of lemon. We were with each other daily. Daily, without fail, a stranger would approach us and profess awe at our great beauty as a couple. Often they would advise one of us to never let the other go. It was magical. I felt as though there was never a time I did not know him.

After three years, I was abruptly informed that he had a life partner and had been living with her for a decade and a half. I had been so naive, so ignorant. The heartbreak was unbearable. Immediately after this news I was hit with more desperate news — I was pregnant. I was a poor single mother, with no outside family support. What further complicated my circumstances was that we were an interracial couple. I was distraught. I knew that I could not support another child, that I needed to work to support the child I did have. Furthermore, I knew that all ties to my family of origin would be permanently severed if I had this baby. I feared homelessness, and was ashamed in so many ways. Single and pregnant at 20, disowned, uneducated, poor, divorced and now pregnant out of wedlock again.

I had an abortion. I don’t regret it. I still know it was the only right thing I could do.

The day before my scheduled abortion, I drove to a beach in Malibu that is a nature preserve. I sat on a piece of driftwood and said good-bye to the soul that had chosen me but was not going to be born at that time. I sat there until the tears abated. I sat there all day.

Several weeks later I was back in the same location with Robert grieving with him for the unborn child, and the loss of our relationship. We knew we could not continue. As we walked along the beach I bent down and picked up a beautiful whole shell of a sea urchin. For me it was a symbol of the loss of what had been and what might have been, our relationship and our unborn child. I cradled it for a few moments before turning to give it to Robert. Simultaneously he turned to give me one he had also picked up. It was half a shell. It was like a cup, holding all that was precious and hallowed from the prior three years.

Will Margit and Fred Kill Him?

Abbas Raza confides, “I have nothing clever to say and instead can only indulge in a bit of sentimentality.” But it is beautifully sentimental.

After years of living with my girlfriend, I decided it was not working and one day, told her so. It was she who was the strong one, and worried about me as I packed my stuff and moved out of our luxury apartment in a famous hotel to the basement of my sister’s house. I left everything we had bought together for her, except my books, over which there were one or two arguments. For example, I claimed a copy of Hanif Qureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, and she said that she clearly remembered buying it, in fact, could remember where she bought it. I said I was pretty sure it was mine. I opened the book, and there on the frontpiece, was the note from her: For My Dearest Love, Abbas. I packed it.

I was trying to be tough in those days and distracting myself with whatever I could find to help me not think about her. At my sister’s, it took some days before I could bring myself to unpack the boxes, and as I was doing so, I found a board game which my girlfriend must have quietly put in. It was a Ludo set that she had bought me for my birthday one year, having stored an anecdote about my childhood in her mind for months: that some of my fondest childhood memories were of train trips to the north of Pakistan, alone with my mother, when she would play the game of Ludo with me after dinner.

And then it hit me.

An Idea Is Always a Social Climb

Reader Sally Reed sends us a poem by Les Murray.


An idea whistles with your lips,

laughs with your breath.
An idea hungers for your body.

An alert, hot to dissemble and share,
it snatches up cases of its style
from everywhere, to start a face.

An idea is a mouth that sells
as it sucks. It lusts to have
loomed perpetual in the night colours;
an idea is always a social climb.

Whether still braving snorts
ordering its shootings, or at rest
among its own charts of world rule,
a maturing idea will suddenly want

to get smaller than its bearers.

It longs to be a poem:
earthed, accurate, immortal trance,
buck as stirrups were
blare of the panther.

Only art can contain an idea.

From the collection Subhuman Redneck Poems, which won the 1997 T.S. Eliot Prize.

Yes, the Law Can Break Your Heart

Former lawyer and School Lunch Queen Jean Terranova has a shattering story about Cesar Fierro, her one-time client. Unfortunately the photos she mentions did not make it across the Typepad barrier, but they are viewable on the Web site that tracks the Fierro case.

The year was 1993 — a year after I graduated from law school.  I was working for a federal death penalty resource center in Houston, assigned to represent a Mexican national who had been on death row since 1980.  My co-counsel was much more experienced, but intensely involved in another case, so I assumed the role of lead counsel.

The first photo depicts the client — Cesar Fierro — the year before he was sentenced to death.  By 1993 he had gained considerable weight. He was somewhat amused I would be handling his case, given my young age.  But he was grateful nevertheless.

Through tireless investigation, our legal team uncovered unassailable evidence that Fierro was innocent.  Even the prosecutor who tried the case agreed he should receive a new trial.  The trial judge disagreed, and set an execution date.  The extremely conservative appeals court (an elected bench) halted the execution and ordered an evidentiary hearing on the issue of innocence.  We won in the trial court, but the appeals court denied relief in a hotly contested 5-4 ruling.

The federal resource center lost its funding, and I moved back to Massachusetts, but stayed on as Fierro’s lead counsel.  The trial court set an execution date, and I flew back to Texas to prepare pleadings for the federal court of appeals. Very shortly before the execution was to take place, the Court ordered a stay, and an evidentiary hearing on the issue of innocence.  Meanwhile, Fierro was slowly going mad.  His letters were becoming irrational, he was belligerent, and he descended into being the person depicted in the second photograph.

The federal district court denied relief in short shrift, and the federal appeals court affirmed.  I subsequently left the practice of law, and had my co-counsel appointed as lead counsel in the case.  Fierro remains on death row — not recognizable to anyone who knew him before.  They are still litigating certain issues of international and constitutional law.  But even if they prevail, Fierro lost his life many years ago.  And I am still stunned by it all.

Love Is So Short, Forgetting Is So Long

Reader Thatcher Hayward sent us a poem by Pablo Neruda. To its right is a pattern of a silk-screen dress by muralist and digital artist Holly Alderman. If you look closely, you can see deer on the bottom rear panel of the dress.


Tonight I Can Write

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

(Translated by W.S. Merwin)

The Keys in the Snow Bank, Or When Life is a Movie Starring Sandra Dee

“I guess my 9.5 years with Erick have erased all memory of love going the wrong way,” reader and Web designer Connie Munson writes in.  “But I couldn’t help thinking of my worst date ever.”

I had gone on only one date with Brian a week before Valentine’s Day. My Dad’s business made sure the local Country Club’s grounds are clean of snow, and he’d had for years a tab there. In exchange for an errand I did for him, he said he’d take care of getting us a table and pick up dinner.

Brian arrived at my door. I was still living with my parents as I was a college student doing an internship. My mom had made appetizers, and I invited him in. We chatted with the parents about not much at all, and headed out. I offered to drive as it had just snowed and my jeep had snow tires and it would be easier. We arrived at the club and were seated right away. We had dinner and during dinner he asked me a million questions. We discussed where I was going to school, how much a year it cost, who paid for my schooling, who makes my car payments and other such questions. I was irritated before our main course arrived but remained polite. Eventually Brian asked the waitress for the tab and the waitress said “There is no bill tonight.” And that is when my date blew up. Brian told me that he’d never date a girl like me because a rich kid who never had to work for anything, and began to rant about everything from my parents home to the quality of the walleye he had just eaten. I was so embarrassed! I told him that I’d be happy to take him back to his car, and that I needed to go to the bathroom first.

I got up, went out towards the bathroom and down to the coat check. I got my coat and keys – and suggested that when the jerk came down to take as much time as they wanted to give him his coat. I drove home and left Brian at the club – 3.5 miles from the house.

I got home and told my parents of the lovely date, and anxiously awaited Brian to arrive. Two hours later on foot he arrived and knocked on the door to get his keys. I opened the door and chucked them as far as I could into a good sized fresh snowbank.

A Sweet Mistress, Making Late Night Trouble Between the Artist and His WifeUccello_mazzocchi21_2

Painter Nan Freeman writes about Paolo Uccello, whose perspective drawing and inlaid dodecahedron are at right, above and below.

Look up in your copy of Giorgio Vasari Le Vite delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors,
and Architects).1550/1568 , for Cosimo I de’ Medici. The story he
tells about Paolo Uccello

Uccello was enthralled with the Alberti’s newly formulated  system of linear perspective, and he was staying up very late drawing, trying to project into perspective and draw ( if I remember correctly) a one-hundred-and-forty-seven sided polyhedron.  Mrs. Uccello was irritated at his preocculation and asked him to knock it off and come to bed with her.


It Was the Usual Suspect

An anonymized reader tells us of a giant revelation.

If I was donating to the museum, I’d donate the remains of a joint I smoked one night which I rolled in a page ripped out of a Gideon version of the New Testament.

Being an idealist at the time – in love with the idea of God, purity and good deeds- my major and most disappointing relationship of my childhood and late teens was with God. I was raised in a very religious home, which in a large part influenced my zeal, though my brother and sister did not inherit the same religious enthusiasm. At 16, I could think of no better life than to be a nun, dedicated to God and serving him in every action throughout the day.

At 18, full of hope and expectations, eager to join others who dedicated their lives to serving God and doing good deeds, I left to work in an orphanage 5,000 miles away from my home. Here I began the long painful process of finding out exactly what those people who claimed to serve God, were actually motivated by. In our little orphanage, the abuse of power, put-down of women, and use of God to hide the most base of deeds began quickly to be apparent. Through the next few years, I continued to discover how phony and full of lies the religious leaders were.

Now, ten years later as an agnostic, I’m disappointed but not bitter.

Putting the Pain Back in Painting

Reader Patrick Dunn has a tale of heartbreak played out in the presence of one of art’s saddest images, Picasso’s Blue Nude.

Last August, my fiancee of 18 months left Chicago to begin her Ph.D. in Berkeley, and since then we have not spoken.

Among the many stray belongings she left behind (in the apartment we inhabited for close to a year) is a framed print of Picasso’s Blue Nude.  The painting, which no longer hangs on my wall, is not only a reminder of her absence, but an encapsulation of all the pain we harvested during the time
leading up to our separation.

A Pseudonymized Entry — from “Robert”

My donation would be a painting, which I bought in Washington, D.C. some 25 years ago.  Modest in size, it is a plein-air view of Virginia horse country. It has rolling hills and majestic oaks.  My description relies on clichés, but the image does not. It is well composed and conveys with memorable skill the atmospherics of intense sunlight filtering through summer haze.  Because of the style of the gilt frame, which I’m sure is original, I have always thought the picture to date from the 1920s-30s.

The painting is the only thing I ever owned jointly with a man who was my lover for eight years.  After seven years of “more ups and downs than a whore’s skirts”, as someone put it, Joe suggested that we start buying art together.  His proposal (intentional word choice) was that I let him know when I spied something, and we would chip in equally to acquire it. I don’t remember a specified budget, but it had to have been miniscule.  He was still in school, and I was working, more for love than money, in an art museum. In his demanding graduate program, he had no time to pursue such purchases.  I had both time and the DNA for shopping, so I was the scout, a role I eagerly assumed.  I soon found the landscape in a Washington antique store that specialized in furniture.

The look on Joe’s face when he saw the painting was devastating. The blend of disappointment and disapproval seemed to be directed more at me than the landscape.  I have painful memories of feeling that way. The $67.50 of his money that I had misspent somehow came between us, causing irreparable damage.

What I haven’t told you is that the painting is, in all fairness, deeply flawed. It has a very badly painted foreground coexisting with middle- and backgrounds which are lovely. (Very Golden Bowl, I realize.) Our perceptions differed in the most fundamental of ways: for years, I never saw the defects.  They were the first things Joe saw.  I looked into the distance; he examined what was immediately in front of him.

When we ended, I asked him what we should do with the painting.  He was beyond keen to be rid of it.  I have always had it hanging. I find that when I look at it I still concentrate on the beautiful parts.  This does not make me a better person than Joe.  It does adumbrate why it is so good we didn’t continue.  For me the possession of the painting was always freighted with LARGER ISSUES.  For Joe it was an investment strategy.  He was pessimistic about the painting’s potential in the marketplace.  I thought he was pessimistic about our potential as a couple.  He was right about both. So much was unclear to me then. The funny thing is, after all this time, the haze is what I love best about the painting.

I Laundered It For You

Courbetwomandog_2 Okay, people — this one’s mine.

Some time ago I took a leaf out of Schopenhauer’s book, and switched to poodles. Please don’t over-interpret that, okay?

I live and work in a large apartment on the periphery of Harvard, in one of the priciest postal codes in the world.  I make this outrageous situation affordable by renting out one of my bedrooms to grad students seeking wisely to avoid Harvard housing. Front and center among my criteria for choosing a flat-mate are a love of animals and ample patience with their ways; that my poodle, Lucy, should mutely suffer from bad vibes or harsh glances is intolerable.

Recently I was on the phone with a 29-year-old Bulgarian post-doc interested in my extra room -– let’s call her Liljana. She checked out well enough to invite over for a look, but I must say I was taken aback by her doleful voice.  She spoke slow, perfect, sorrow-filled English, in a booming register I did not associate with youth. Even if in person Liljana and I clicked, might it not be like running into Lisa Gerrard in the early mornings?  I sound-pictured Liljana yawning hugely, spooking Lucy with those post-Ottoman, post-Communist blues. Like just about everyone else, I prefer a flat-mate who is both quiet and upbeat – this was probably not Liljana.

Nevertheless, twenty minutes after ringing off, I opened my door to her. In a pale blue down coat and white scarf, she was not just pretty but adorably pretty, with lashes so dense they tangled.  The surf no longer crashed in her voice, which was soft, low, gently weary.  Lucy trotted up to her and salaamed. Then rolled over, her forepaws wheeling in the air.  She parted her hind legs, threw back her head and, arching, gave Liljana a frankly lustful look that I had never seen on her face in all our time together and did not suspect she was capable of. There followed tongue-showing, and crupper-swinging with an unmistakable rhythm. Only with a rose in her teeth could Lucy have better incarnated a love-struck mammal, going all out to secure the attentions of the darling. A character dancer at the Kirov Ballet had no moves on Lucy that night.

Liljana was charmed by all this, but not surprised – maybe fawns forsook the woods to lay their heads in her lap, too.

Don’t misunderstand me.  While I was stung and astonished, I did not and do not think my dog should be in love with me.  It would be abject and tiresome if whenever I entered the house there were this kind of a carry-on from her instead of the usual doggy greeting, uncomplex and glad. As if she needed to perform for me, when there is between us deep naturalness and understanding.  For I am the mother and the source.  I am food and water and love and play, and trips to the bathroom. I am nature and providence and order.  But I guess I’m not the darling.

A couple of days later, Liljana called to say she was too overwhelmed with work to think properly about moving.  Once again, her vowels were silted up with mourning, conveying worlds of pain. She inquired whether she had left her white scarf in my hallway, saying it might have slipped to the floor.

It had done.  Lucy found it, I told her, volunteering no further details about that. I laundered it for you.

Boxed In, But Not For Long

This from blogger Chris Schoen.
I was born in June, two moons too soon, eager, perhaps, to imbibe the aethers of the Summer of Love before they gave way to smoke and tear gas. On the day of my birth the Beatles sang “All You Need is Love” on the first worldwide TV broadcast, but at 2 lbs., 3 oz. I needed more. I needed incubation.

Preemies in those days faced tough odds. A shrink I met with in my adolescence liked to joke “You had a 50/50 chance, and lost.” Get it? I still don’t. Anyway, I lived.

Some people have imaginary friends, or vanished twins (a “memory” of an absorbed twin embryo in utero). I had a box. This gave my life a neat symmetry: we all go from cradle to grave, but an incubator is so much more caskety even than any crib. In college I once wrote a bad poem called “Lines of the In-Cube-Hater.”

I was sort of obsessed by this time with the idea that my neo-natal confinement had irrevocably marked and shaped me. Passing acquaintance (my favorite kind, then) with pop psychology told me that I had missed a crucial threshold of peak imprinting, and that there was no do-over allowed. Certain esoteric spiritual practices seemed to offer a possible reprieve, through “re-birthing,” meditation, or “heroic doses” of psychtropic alkaloids, but each of these offerings promised to overtax, in turn, my credulity, my patience, and my courage.

My love-hate affair with my incubator was thus a perfect way to live out the compelling myth of being unredeemably separate from my fellow mammals, by virtue of having been so deprived (so I thought) of all that elemental stroking and cooing that everybody but me was engaged in in that summer of love.

It now appears that none of this is true. I don’t know where I got the idea that extra baking time in the Neonatal ICU was so crippling; partly, to be sure, from my mother, for whom the myth was important for her own reasons, and partly, I’ll bet, from a reverse engineering of my own disconnectedness later in life. It now appears that incubator time can be considered an extension of the uterine experience, in which, we must admit, there’s not a whole lotta lovin going on either, at least not as we know it. For preemies it’s that second birth that matters, out of the box and into soft arms and hands. There, a whole new set of ideas awaits our attachment and ultimate heartbreak and disillusionment. But that, in ways that lucite boxes can never be, is life.

A Heart-Shaped Antibody from Paul K

Antibody For once, Paul K of BibliOdyssey fame does not have a print for us, and, for once, he’s not entirely certain how to attribute the visual he sent us, at right, other than to say that it’s probably owned by Cambridge University.

You might suspect that I would nominate a particularly elusive historical print to the Museum of Broken Relationships but my immediate thought was for a biomolecule, one that held my total and unwavering affection and interest for half a decade.

Antibodies are without doubt the most elegant protein of them all and can exist in over a hundred million different conformations. Unseen and (mostly) unheard and requiring no concious control on our part, these innerspace alien centurions are on duty 24/7, protecting us against the continuous onslaught of marauding bacteria and viruses.

Becoming acquainted with their dynamic form, their genetic controls and regulation and their complex functionality allows immunologists to employ these Y-shaped biomachines for everything from dye marking in cellular studies to poison delivery systems, targeting specific cancer cells.

I had an obsessional passion for these diaphanous imaginary molecules (we can’t see them, we have to make up our own visual models: 3rd eye biochemistry). Alas, immunological research is an overwhelming mistress of the intellect and it’s a case (to me anyway) of donating your whole life slaving to elaborate the myriad layers of molecular complexity, or watching progress from the sideline and pursuing other paths.

I have some regrets about leaving that world but probably fewer than if I had stayed.

The Bay of Naples

JaneyM tells us, “I could stock a Museum of Broken Relationships all by myself, never mind expanding the field to include things like ideas and pets, to which list I will add: countries.” Alas, her evocative photo failed to make it over the Typepad barrier. But on with the story.

I have been single for a long time now, but that last wild love affair (last in both senses, I shouldn’t wonder) was with an Irishwoman, and it let me indulge to my heart’s content, just for a while, a love that has never wavered since I was eight years old.

That is: my love affair with Ireland.

As far as I can tell, it started with a silly, stereotype-ridden, dumbass Walt Disney movie called Darby O’Gill and the Little People.  Fiddle music, the terrifying cry of the banshee, stage Irish accents, a young and devastatingly handsome Sean Connery … all seen when I was a child, barely remembered later … yet, when I next heard fiddle music, it was like an echo of home.

For a while I played the fiddle myself, but that’s yet another lost love, a story for another time.

I did my doctoral dissertation on George Bernard Shaw.  Years later, I shot “The Bay of Naples” from the road between Dalkey and Killiney, looking south toward Bray Head.  The Irishwoman and I had gone there so that I could gaze on Torca Cottage, where Shaw lived as a boy.  In the unassuming Irish way there is no fanfare about Torca Cottage, just a little plaque, and “the natural beauty of that enchanting situation commanding the two great bays between Howth and Bray Head and its canopied skies such as I have never seen elsewhere in the world.  They are as present to me now as they were 80 years ago” (Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1926-1950).

I loved the Irishwoman madly, and not long after that trip, even so, I left her forever, no more able to make a life with her than a dolphin could set up housekeeping with an eagle.  Thirteen years later, I haven’t been able to bring myself to go to Ireland as a mere tourist, staying in public accommodation, eating in restaurants … much less listening to the Polish accent of the man pulling pints in the pub, one of the side effects, I’m told, of prosperity and EU worker mobility.

The picture is called “The Bay of Naples” because a friend more well-traveled than I, seeing it for the first time, exclaimed, “Oh, it’s beautiful, is it the Bay of Naples?”  And I was pleased, because two of my grandparents came to America from Naples, in the early part of the 20th century.

They never went back.  I hope to do better in relation to Ireland.

As for my Irishwoman, she is not mine any more.  I hope she is well and thriving under those canopied skies.

Adding An Aural Aspect to Anguish

Writer and quondam 3QD contributor J.M.Tyree was struck that the Museum of Broken Relationships had no music.

I have a feeling that a museum for broken hearts ought to contain a mix-tape of the saddest music ever. I mean a tape, an actual physical cassette, with lots of awkward jumps, pauses, etc., like the ones my friends used to record off the radio when “Two of Hearts” first came out. (Actually, the wonderful Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin has already made fun of this sort of idea in his movie “The Saddest Music in the World,” in which countries square off, like in the Olympics, to gain the prize of most sorrowful.) I would try to create something in the museum for other people to use to create their own mix. What I’m envisioning is something like this: An electronic jukebox with all the sad songs in the universe on it. Visitors could make their own mix-tape and take it home with them as a keepsake, and the museum could keep a copy for the archives. One possible selection is below, but I’d love to hear what songs other people would use, and in what order.

Sad Strings

1. A Million Times by Ms. John Soda

2. Reckoner by Radiohead

3. Know by Oneida

4. Lonesome Tears by Beck

5. Disarm by Smashing Pumpkins

6. The Power of Goodbye by Madonna

7. In the Backseat by Arcade Fire

8. Cello Song by Nick Drake

9. String Quarter #4, Buczak: III by Philip Glass (Performed by Kronos Quartet)

This Museum Needs a Gift Shop

Writer, artist and 3QD columnist Alta Price has, as always, something thoughtful and mysterious to put in front of us.  It’s optimistic, too — so she should have the last word today.


Quisquis amat valeat,
Pereat qui nescit amare,
Bis tanto pereat, quisquis amare vetat.

(Greetings to those who love,
Cursed be those who do not love,
Doubly cursed be those who forbid love.)

I was initially attracted to this graffito because of its poetic spontaneity, and the idea of someone swiftly scrawling it into a wall in Pompeii—sometime before 79 CE, in an almost illegible ancient Roman cursive script—fascinated me. Graffitists have existed in all countries and all time periods, but their work is often washed off, its support torn down, or is destroyed by myriad other causes. Happily, this particular extemporaneous effusion was buried and then excavated some nineteen centuries later. Regardless of whether its author was in or out of love at the time, that person’s relationship to writing, to the practice of benediction and malediction, became an everlasting one.
I then editioned it as a watermark with the idea that it could be used to write letters, paint or draw on, rolled or folded up and worn in a locket as an amulet (though the Pompeiians would’ve used a silver or lead support) or simply admired as-is, as a work in its own right. The message’s author and recipient(s) are unclear in the unsigned original, leaving it highly open to interpretation based on the implied relationships, be they sound or broken.
The fact that the Museum of Broken Relationships focuses on relationships that are broken, as opposed to broken-off, is curious. Indeed, relationships are experiences, periods of time, and often become an integral part of all parties involved, whether the contact lives on or is cut off. Even then—even when you cut off all ties to a partner, an idea, a belief (you divorce your spouse, you switch political parties, you convert or give up religion)—echoes of it, or who you were with it, invariably come back. So in a sense, relationships can be as broken as possible, but they can never truly be broken off.
I would send the museum a massive—nay, never-ending—stack of these sheets; the curators and directors could decide whether they were best as an exhibit or in the “gift shop.”