And if I know something about love by now, it’s because I didn’t always. This is me writing eighteen (urf!) years ago:
Starting from that very jaundiced point of view, I have spent the entire lifespan of a clueless new voter trying to suss out love in a way that makes sense to me – in a way that makes sense in the context of the fully-human life. I write, and because I do, I leave a trail of pebbles behind me, to mark my progress. Playing with the ideas of Mothertongue and Fathertongue led me to Love among the nerds, and that in turn led to my book The Unfallen. I’ve played more recently with the idea of storgic love and the storgic romance that makes human families thrive in Sun City, a skein of Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie yarns about love, loss and redemption. All of these are represented in Loving Cathleen, along with the essays I have written over the years about her and about our lives together.
The proof of the authenticity of love, true love, undying love, is that it spites the truth, benights the truth, growls at and barks at and bites the truth. Romantic love seems to be a narcotic concocted to fight the truth for being the truth. Lovers say things they do not mean, make promises they cannot keep and attribute to their lovers virtues they cannot – and are not expected to – uphold. This would be insane if it were unilateral, but, of course, it is not. For the goal in committing this conceptual atrocity is an equal and opposite insane reciprocity: If you confer upon me an honor, a dignity, a beauty I have not earned and do not deserve, I will inject you with the same elixir in return. This is social only as a canard, and I supect that the actual transaction is wholly solitary and wholly delusional. The lover is once worse than Narcissus; he seeks not to worship his reflection, but his imagined reflection. The person reflected back to him by his lover is not him, but him as he idealizes himself. You can feast on life but that’s hard work, and no one can do it for you. Or you can pig out on candy and call yourself fulfilled. But you cannot feast on candy, and the glare of the light of truth melts the most elaborate confections.
It is possible to put a better spin on this: Despite the outrageous claims made during the sexual “revolution,” sex is a big deal. Biologically, obviously, because of the potential to spawn glaring, blaring, confectionary-melting bundles of indisputable truth. But also simply because of the immense emotional risk that such an immense vulnerability poses. We are apt to revolt against religion or tradition because they are unreasoned. But that their terminal claims are undefended is no proof that they are untrue. Arguably, we need some sort of barrier to completely casual sex, and, if we reject reason, and if we reject the unreasoned proscriptions of our forebears, then we must turn to the unreasoned proscriptions of our contemporaries. You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs? How could they, when silly love songs license their furtive unions?
This book is for her first, so you know. I love her immensely, and it suits my outsized soul to lay an immense demonstration of my love for her at her feet. But this book is for you, too, if you want for it to be. I am showing you, in story and with hard-headed theory, how to capture the love you’ve been chasing your whole life – how to get it, how to give it, how to live it – enduringly, enthrallingly, ecstatically.Loving Cathleen can also be read as a companion, a corollary to Father’s Day. I want to show couples what a man’s love looks like, how a fully-committed Mister Married manages his marriage. There is nothing supplicating in this, nothing weak, nothing feminine. To the contrary, the best expression a man can make of his love for his wife and his family is to take charge – like a man – and get them where they all need to go. Father’s Day tells you how to do it. Loving Cathleen shows you how it’s done.
There’s more – little things that going into making a book that matter to no one but me. Here are two I’m very proud of: Except for the type fonts themselves and the photo of the two of us on the back cover, everything in this book was made by me: The text, the typography and pagination, the photography, the cover – everything! Not since William Blake has an author been able to have this much control over the creation of a book. And in the text itself, beyond the table of contents, there is not one wasted word, nothing that is not absolutely mission-critical to the job we’re undertaking together.
I want for you to take this journey. I want for you to see this love as clearly as you can, so that you can pursue it relentlessly in your own life. Loving Cathleen is about the eighteen years I spent looking for, living with, learning from and loving my wife, Cathleen Collins. The book ends like this, with words that I think are a fitting overture to the most fulfilling chapters in the book of your life:
This is a love worth living. This is a love worth grailing for. This is a love worth living up to.