What is it like to love someone more than you love yourself?

Dear Reader,

Do you know how when you read stories of mothers and fathers that explain they did not know love until they met their child, howsoever they arrived into their families? There is a mythologizing of our capacity to experience of love relative to normative family structures. Parents, children, and love. Love is valid when it is expressed in open, consensual, and meaningful ways. I am, however, torn on the idea that love is an epiphany that we experience on the other side of a birthing table. The love that we experience, nurture, and develop throughout our lives is meaningful and important to every subsequent platonic and/or romantic relationship in which we engage. The first models of what love is comes from our parents or guardians. In some cases, we experience positive models of love and in others we do not. So, perhaps the mythologizing of love comes from this so-called originary model and self-perpetuates throughout cultural ideas of love. I suppose we have Rousseau to thank for this in the rhetoric in the west, as he argued for parents to be involved in the emotional and intellectual needs of their children. Indeed, we centre the idea of love and wholeness around the relationships between parent and child. These relationships can be vital and overwhelmingly important in the best ways (or even the worst). But what does it mean when we look outside the familial or even the human? Is it important that we learn to love and the consequences of love only through loving other humans? in some constrained network of Darwinian succession? The answer, quite simply, is no.

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Fashionista Misha

I’d like to introduce you to my dog, Misha. She is fourteen, and we got her when I was about thirteen. I grew up with her, I went away to school, and I came home to take care of her because she was sick. Although it would be nice to wax poetic about how her life reveals my own life, I’d argue, rather, that from her and her life, I learnt how to love deeply, firmly, and unrelentingly in the face of annoyance, joy, and the fear of death. (I’m basically going to wax poetic, though.) When we first got her, I wanted all of her attention. I wanted to be able to talk to her, to be her best friend, to have our own world. Basically, I wanted to be Dr Dolittle, but without all the Doctoring. I just wanted to have a best friend. Before we got Misha, I had always wanted a horse and a dog. I would ride by bike around the neighbourhood, or, rather, I would ride my horse, Black Beauty, around the neighbourhood. He had 21 gears. Behind us, in my wildest imaginations, trailed not only my hair (it was actually greasily crunched under a helmet) and my ‘dog’ Michelle. (I should note that my baptismal name, Michelle, became the name of all my imaginary friends, including dogs. The similarity to Misha’s name is purely coincidental. Misha was named for her likeness to bears, changed from the Polish spelling misia to Misha.) I always wanted a dog, and I always wanted to run free with her.

Of course, when you’re that young, your experience of pets is quite self-centred. I wanted her for my own needs. I was not the biggest fan of having to go on walks after I got in from school, nor did I particularly love that she was technically walking you because she would pull you by the pant leg down the street. Okay, it was funny, but hard to explain to my friends who thought it was weird that such a small dog was pulling me down the street. I did/do love chasing her. I did love when I tried to train her to stay in our backyard in the winter. I love the time that I took it upon myself to get her used to wearing boots in the winter. I made her walk in circles, like a circus animal, in the snow. I, of course, made a trail for her first. I remember panicking, as a thirteen-year-old-does, because I put the boot on her incorrectly and it rubbed into her leg making it red. I remember tears in my eyes because I had hurt her, unwittingly as it had been. I remember how she patiently waited for me to learn how to do it right. Thirteen years later, we know exactly what we’re doing. Peas in a pod. Paws in a boot.

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A maze constructed for the pupper by moi. This is from 2016/7.

She’s always happy. As long as I can remember, she has wagged her tail happily. Only, once when she was sick (in these past few years), she had her tail down. It broke my heart. When she was younger, and her eyesight was better, she would run to people in the neighbourhood to greet them so happily. She would wait at their houses, refusing to walk further, because she wanted to stop to say ‘HELLLLOOOOOO!’. Misha has always been very stubborn. This means that Misha, thank god she is a small breed, is carried home. Hah! I just remembered that I would walk the neighbourhood with a giant dog bag containing at least ten different toys. The bag was meant to be to carry her home, but it became the means by which to stop and play with Misha and neighbours. Misha in tow in one arm and a large, lofty bag full of toys in the other. Misha has always been the source of so much joy and pure happiness in my life. I don’t know if knew the same love then as I did now. I’d like to think I did, but I know that the meanings and shades of love shifted as I grew older. I would never say that age discounts or invalidates love that one feels at any stage in their life. I can only say that my connection with love and its stakes have evolved over time, through experience and introspection.

In our relationship, she is more like a little sister than a child. Our mom is our mom. When we play, we are Cheeny Bambini (a variation of what I called myself as a child; it translates to Kat the Kid) and Misha Peesha (that one is probably easy to work out). We go on adventures late at night counting stars, skunks, and steps. I carry her in my arms in the dead of winter, which is the best time to star gaze, and sing to her that the stars shine yellow just for her. They were so yellow. Even when I was younger, I would always take her out quite late at night. I am a night owl, which is a new combination for dog story. Dog and Owl: Who is this God anyway? I went to bed quite late during high school, so sometimes I’d walk her at 1 AM. I love the streets at night and the occasional pure fog and the serenity of large trees hugging the asphalt surrounded by dreamers snug in their beds. I love the cool air. I love that Misha loves it too, the freedom of the night; she does occasionally wake me up at 4 AM to go out. We count raccoons then. However, Misha is always very naughty after late-night walks. This has never changed. I would lie down on the floor in the living room to model what sleep looked like. Surely, that’s all she needed, a visual reminder of the joys of sleep. One time when I was about fifteen, I had a tissue in hand because when I am tired my eyes tear. My hand was near my head, laying on the floor. And, all of a sudden, this bullet, torpedo, rocket is launched at my head. At the last second, it veers course in a game of nuclear chicken and steals the tissue from my outstretched hand. Well, let’s just say, modelling sleep did not work. It never has. Misha can model sleep for you but not the other way around.

When I was 17 going on 18, I left for university. It didn’t feel major to leave Misha. She had my family. I was super homesick, but I would be home at Christmas, and I would be home all summer. Most of my undergraduate and first masters went this way. I went home when I could, I would give her a bath, and shower her with love and gifts. Constantly, I left to go back to school. I always loved her during that time, but it’s what you do, you leave your family to go to school, and Misha is part of that family. When I went to England to do my M.A in History of Art, everything seemed okay. However, just as I started writing my dissertation in the summer, I was told that Misha was very unwell, and that they did not know if she would be alive when I came home. I was overwhelmed. One of my really close friends went home, and I had to ask her to stop talking about dogs altogether because I could not leave to be with Misha, and I had to work on school.

Alright, so I got home, and she was alive. *breathes* But it was very stressful because she was still quite sick. I had already decided to take time out from school to find work and just be at home because I knew that was what I wanted. As I job hunted, I took over being Misha’s full-time carer. In the beginning it was rough. Her medication made her pee a lot, so before I figured out her schedule, she would just pee during her sleep. Then she would have fits all night long, which meant I never slept. I slept on the couch for months, but that became too uncomfortable for me because my legs hung off the end, and when she choked, I had to run across a room. I moved her to my bedroom, but I couldn’t sleep vertically because she didn’t like it. So, we slept horizontally. Her on my feather duvet, me with my legs, once again, hanging off the end. Also, sometimes, Misha chooses to take your spot, and then in the middle of the night, decides she wants to go back to her spot. We played a lot of musical beds. I developed a 5-walk schedule around her pill schedule. I saw that crushing her pills was better for her. Very slowly she made progress. We cut out foods that aggravated her condition. It’s been three years. I have to say that again; my dog has lived three years longer than we thought she would.

In that time, I’ve learnt what it is to be sitting cheerfully one minute, and go into full emergency mode as you are not sure whether she’ll be okay at the end. (Also, I want to add that she isn’t being kept alive in some cruel ego-centric fashion. The issue is that her fits are unpredictable. She gets the attention and care that she needs, so she doesn’t suffer.) But, in those extreme moments, you never know. It is an emotional rollercoaster. I love her so much that it aches. And, it’s not odd because she’s a dog. I understand the reasons why humans create divisive structures of difference between ‘animal’ and ‘man’, but that construct is nonsense. Dogs dream, they remember (and they bloody-well remember exactly that you ate something they wanted for days…..and will go to where you ate that thing they wanted to remind you of it), they are happy or unhappy. Animals, like humans, are vast and complex and every single one is precious. In taking care of Misha, I’ve learnt the various capacities of love and what it truly means to love someone else in a totalizing way. Perhaps, that’s what the aforementioned parents feel. They feel the vulnerability of a being that needs your help; there has also been a lot of poop and pee and some vomit involved. I’ve learnt patience. I’ve learnt compassion and empathy. I’ve learnt to read her body language. I can hear her a mile away. I can tell by the way she breathes if she wants me to pick her up. I can tell by the way she punches my sternum (when I die, they’ll find paw prints on my bones during my autopsy) that she wants to go down to roll, play, drink, beg for food, or just get away from me because I’m breathing all the air out of the room. Humans and their big noses—eh? The most important thing I’ve learnt is how to let go of my ego in the face of doing what is best for her.

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‘I think you’ll find this is my bed’.

I love her, and, now that we sleep vertically, I’m always happy to let her choose which side of the bed she wants. I’m happy when she wakes up in the middle of the night and lets out a sigh because my leg is in her way. I’m just so happy.

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‘Just doing some light reading on your paperwork’.

In a very short while, I am going to be going back to school. I’ll be too far to help her. And, I don’t know when I’ll be home next. I’m afraid that she’ll miss me because we are best friends. I’m afraid that she’ll be upset that I’m gone, and that that will hurt her. I’m afraid that if she dies, she won’t hear my voice beside her, the one that comforts her and loves her endlessly. I look at her as she sleeps, deeply and full of supersonic snores, and I think to myself, ‘I wish I could make it so you know you’re always loved’. I wish I could give her absolutely everything because if anyone deserves it, it’s her, my best friend. My argument has been, throughout, that love and fulfillment appear in unexpected places. Love is eternal, even if our vessels are transient. Your experiences of love are valid, and they are significant. How you have experienced and related to other beings is part of your odyssey; don’t be afraid of the power of love. Although I feel this deeply, as others have felt love and its pangs, I repeat to myself: It is better to have loved, than to never have loved at all.

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Heaps of love,

WordPlay Xx

Reading Anna Karenina

Dear Reader,

In the autumn, I am going back to school. I’ll be moving out of the country, and I can’t take my books with me. I’ve been fretting over which is more important to me, reading big books or writing/editing episodes for the podcast. I think I’ve come to a compromise; I believe that I might just read big books and break them up into smaller chunks to discuss. I had been apprehensive about this approach in the past because I felt that my opinions about certain things in the book might change. But, that’s just how reading works, and I need to let go of this idea of perfection. So, I have decided to read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and I feel really warm to the book right now. Previously, I have picked up the book and put it down because it did not speak to me. However, I switched editions to the OUP edition, translated by Rosamund Bartlett, and it is very readable–to my taste anyway. Translated fiction can be really hit or miss, and I think the best thing you can do is to find different translations and sit down with them to see if they appeal to you. What works for me might not work for you. In this sense, translated fiction is your echo chamber. Echo away, little birds, echo away.

So, I am speculating that I will follow the eight-part structure of the novel to construct the episodes. It’s very likely the episodes will be mini-sodes, but I will include historical tidbits, because I do quite love Russian history. The goal is to not let the episode writing distract me from reading the book because I am also trying to get through some methodology books in the meantime. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Warmest wishes and happy summer,

 

WordPlay Xx

 

 

genesis

Yesterday, my person being remote and hermitic,
I stood in the way of the sun, absorbing the rays in
my flesh, denying earth-bound life their sup;
I endured as the roots swallowed my feet, and
soil decomposed my toes, worms wriggling through
the holes in my fragmentary being.
One-hundred-years work accomplished as my eyes
blinked the sun out of their irises.

Like spiders’ legs, my lashes disrupt the visions
afore, garish daydreams that seek to feast on my
peace and pick their teeth with my dissipating bones.
Crack! Tremble with consternation as you question
whether you tread on my splintering bones or the
oft fell branches from ancient trees. As you race
away from the scene, you can only but persist
in crushing bone under foot.

I open my eyes to the blistering light of day, and,
in the radiance, terrors are vanquished. I am yet savèd,
as an ocean of cold water washes over my sins,
gently undulating my hair in ribbons away from
their burdened origins. I recall myself to my feet,
I am standing on concrete, no longer remote, not
entirely hermitic. A sea of women, a sea of beautiful
women walks towards me. I am unrelated to the party,
but a smile stretches from shore to shore. I feel them
wash over me as I obey their portentous pace.
Their auras pierce me, gently and all at once, I am
realized in the presence of their feminine energy;
Reflected and emboldened, I feel whole, in this
gynysis*

© Kat Manica 2017
(*please note, this is poet recognizes that there are many genders; the use of -gyn is not intended to exclude but to reclaim. If you feel it is problematic, please write a comment, and I will not change it but add an addendum explaining so others may learn, too. Thank you.)

penelope

illustration © amelia giller

remedy

click here to hear it read aloud.

You’re asleep, and I hear the mattress
groan as it stretches sleep out its
anatomy and sandman’s dust from its eyes.
The room is dark,
and the only light that smoulders is my
orb-like gaze as I count the lines on
your skin. I lie perfectly still, and my breath
is deep. I wish to wake you, to tell you
everything

But, as I lay here, staring into your flesh,
I know I couldn’t accurately form words for your
wakeful mind that describe the story I want to
narrate, irate I wait for morning to pull you
into consciousness.

There is an apprehension that
guards me, swathes me in a protective layer
of skin. We are perceptively divided;
I can feel the heat of your skin on mine. Two
distinct, fragmented bodies, aching to entwine,
knotted into one, but we are forever discrete
bodies, celestial spheres divided
by an infinite
expanse.

I want to ask you if you’ve seen the other
side, too? If you can read pain in the lines of
faces, and if you can see the love someone needs
from the negative space etched on their
skin. I see sorrow where joy once caressed
tender lips, and I see how burdened eyes move
in comedic bodies, performing artifice on the
world’s stage.

I eat their sins, in the darkness of the room,
opening my mouth wide to consume
disquietude. I oppressively swallow un-
comfortable gulps, like the crust of dry bread
cutting open my throat; my teeth dissolve as they
gnash against the grain.
Still,
you sleep.

I’ve seen the other side, love,
a porous boundary that threatens our
wholeness, our divisiveness. There was a time,
before this contemplative empathy, when I could
not see the rainbow for the rain. Perhaps,
this is when we lose ourselves to
the other, when we become enmeshed, matted
together, solving the ache;
compassion, is the remedy,
love.

© Kat Manica 2017

giphy5

An Early Spring’s Vision

The sweet spring air beautifies as fresh-
formed buds expand to kiss the sky,
Sun beams set the heavens ablaze in sparkling
fluorescence, whilst wind caresses my dew-
dampened tresses, long fingers brush out
wind-tangled knots, and thus I hear the Queen
Faerie’s chariot within ear-shot.

Her vessel is woven from fine hair borrowed from
fluffy tails brandished by squirrels as they burrow’d,
And she sails on the waters of a sweet lovers’
draught, her oars are petals from a daisy’s
fresh bud, the mast a nettle that bites like
witchcraft, her song is heard by poets and
birds, who trill to the heavens the thrill
of the night, a long winter manifesting frosts
with a bite, melted by the golden light
of vernal, cardamom-scented daffodils.

I lose my fingers in forests of grass,
as the birds chime again in hopeful
chorus, away are the days of cathartic
tragedy, and here is the birth of ye and
of flea, to nip at the flesh of spring’s youthful
children, eased from the grip of winter’s cold teeth,
Arrives the Queen whose nettle-sailèd ship
brings solace and solstice to all at her feet.

Sweet-fragranced flowers stir memories once lost,
Of birch and of fir, of trees I have crossed,
In spring’s subtle sun, I dance with shut eyes
deftly on paper-wingèd butterflies,
We sup in the forest amongst Queen and
field mouse, badger, and fox, drinking
cups filled with wine, we are drawn
to the stars, like a beaconed light-house.

Moon’s winking eyes twinkle in joyous
delight, as we consume the splendour with
ravenous appetite. My eyelids are heavy, and
the Queen bids us fair night, as sweet slumber
enchants us, decants us dulcet-toned dreams,
as the moon, in her esteem, sets the world to light,
kissed by gentle illuminations of her soft-hued
beams. Lashes flutter as I fly from this chimerical
invention, every detail forgotten in rapt
inattention.

© Kat Manica 2017

this one rhymes.

giphy4

Animation by AISHWARYA SADASIVAN

I, Eurydice


Press play to hear it read aloud.

When I get to this place, a place where my
finer sensibilities are dulled, I feel as though
I have lost the way back to you. I am not
lost in darkness. It’s a different kind of veil
that disentangles us limb by limb, nerve by nerve.
Its opacity blinds me from the possibility
of your tranquility, and I am left quite alone.

Have you heard the tale wherein
Orpheus crosses into death to bring Eurydice
back to the mortal realm from behind
the veil of last breaths, whence she fell?
In meeting her eyes, she was wrenched away from him,
And so Orpheus re-lived the agony of their parting,
immortalized in the story of their love,
a life and love from which Eurydice was excluded.

That kind of love ensnares, for we desire to
hold a gaze as we contemplate beyond
mortality and mortal flesh
but what happens when we see each other,
are we endlessly drawn apart, on the cusp of be-
coming.

But when I’m here, in this place, this no
man’s land, I lose all discursive dexterity.
Rather, my thoughts are quietly meditative.
My heart is so slow. I feel only
the echo of momentum, as I fall.
For you, love, I fall.

 

 

 

© Kat Manica 2017

 

 

Some Context: This comes from a really odd mood.

 

giphy3

Animation by alcinoo

pen-sieve ii

Press play to hear me read it aloud:

There is a cloud there, portentously
bearing the weight of my duller senses,
In lighter moods, they dance into shifting
shapes, reflecting the sun in pleasing ways,
we see the lightness of our hearts reflected
there, shaded hues that taste like the pith
and rind of a sweetly sour orange.

I am fragmented in these lighter moods,
flitting from focused intention to indiscernible
and unearthly domains. Arms and other limbs
grounded firmly in the earth, mind alighted
in cosmic swirls of astral belts and milky ways.
I am pulled apart endlessly, an ever-expanding
universe of remote but fruitful thought.

All at once, I am thrust into wholeness by your
merciless measures, wholeness cannibalized
as you lick your lips hungrily at the decimation
of my being. As tears fill my eyes, you relentlessly
dig flesh from my bones, I scream in tormented hell,
Although people hear me, they refuse to see that
my shredded hope is worthy of comfort,
I’m not sure which torture is the worse
to bear.

And so I build, I built the borders of my being
strong, impenetrably so, neither cannon, nor
man, nor arrow, nor spiritual whim can pierce
my strong-willed fortress, protecting my
splintered self, but it does not dull the senses;
feeling is magnified, as I am cognizant of every
reverberation, every ripple in the sea of human
consciousness and experience;
My lips force down bile, courageously,
as I walk alone, gently smiling at birds as they
sing: tra la la

© Kat Manica

giphy2

Animation by cintascotch

luke warm

‘It’s just sitting there, right there’,
I say, gesticulating to some point near
my sternum and between my breasts.
‘It’s an anger that feels luke warm,
but infuriating all the same.
It catches my words, and as soon as
I feel I’ve caught my breath, I’ve nothing
left to say’.

Silence hangs in the air, choking us,
the pain still lingers, where my finger
crashed into flesh and bone, where
nail struck bone, nail struck bone,
nail struck bone, over and over again.
There is no penance, there is no rhyme
nor reason. Perhaps, there is very little
meaning, as fomenting flesh melts from
form to shapeless ease, where no words
exist.

Space lingers between us, as your empty mind
races to hapless conclusions about
women and their need to always feel things.
Why can’t they just not feel things for once,
I can see you thinking that, I can hear it
as if you’re shouting it millimetres from my skull,
the heat of your breath on my forehead.
You’re wringing your hands, and I begin to think
you’re going to leave.

A groan. You’re groaning. I want to ask what
it means because I ache for meaning more than
anything else. I crave it so much that my whole
existence hangs on that groan. Tell me what it means,
I need to know what it means. You’re still
groaning. Is there silence or deafening noise
in that groan? It is cavernous.
All vibrations cease. You reach out to where
nail smashed bone.
Your warmth washes over the wounds
men left as they stole my trust, smashing
bone and shattering heart.

You look where I said it hurts, not in my eyes,
and you begin to talk, as though the beige that
sits within me is worthy of time and consideration.
It still permeates my body, this unfeeling feeling;
it doesn’t melt right away, but I feel the tension
release, nerve by nerve, breath by breath.
I don’t hear every word, but I hear the noise
I crave, the noise of your lips as you
whisper that what I feel doesn’t need
your validation.

It is existence. This feeling here.
This love that pours through the colourless
fog of my mired thoughts.
You shattered the ice that once sealed my
death fate, and I gasp for the breath you
remind me to take. You know that I don’t
need your hand, but you will still offer it,
You will sacrifice your warmth for
life in my body.

 

© Kat Manica

 

(I’m actually quite proud of this poem because I’ve been feeling in a bit of a creative rut, and creation feels so good. I finished this out of breath, which is just another reminder how visceral writing and creating can be.)

giphy

animation by Ilisăi Andreea

m e n t h o l s

Do you remember when we
used to smoke menthols in the park,
late at night, drunk people laughing
in the distance, and we were
sitting on swings. I think that
was the last time I felt like
my feet could touch the
ground.

We held them in our hands,
like little torches to guide our path,
‘peppermint breath,’
you’d tease, and I’d smile with ease,
exhaling the puffs of shame from
whence they hugged my heart.

I remember looking beyond the
trees to the midnight sky, to the
stars that shone, and my lungs filled
with clean, fresh air. I’d let fall the butt
in the sand, dropping all pretence.

‘Fly me to the moon,’ I’d whisper,
and I knew you would, as you told
me things no one else had ever heard
you say. I didn’t hear them either, because I
was absorbed in memorizing the lines
of your face, the shape of your nose,
and the gnash of your teeth as you
chewed your dread into dark matter.

Do you remember how we’d laugh
so hard, and we vowed never to smoke
again so that we could laugh like
this when we got old. I never have.
I’m still waiting for my feet to touch
the ground, love.

© Kat Manica 2017

starppmm

Animation by ABBEY LOSSING

(N.B no butts were littered in the sand; don’t litter please.)