Monday 19 January 2015

The 36 questions you need to ask to fall in love

According to a report in the New York Times, you can fall in love with absolutely anyone.  All you have to do is ask the person 36 specific questions.  Why these?  Apparently it’s all about vulnerability.  The study’s authors said:   “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Er, right.  In other words, be open, be honest, be vulnerable.  Presumably this is reciprocal.  You would take it in turns, right?  But then, it occurs to me that it plunges us straight into that classic human ‘thing’ where, all the time you’re listening to the other person, you’re framing your own reply, your own witty anecdote, your own even more open and vulnerable response.  How many people really listen?

Actually, I’m not sure you even need to ask all those complicated questions.  Just before Christmas I went on a Zen retreat.  Every day we would sit down in front of one another and ask one question:  ‘Tell me who you are?’  And then we would just…listen.  It was the most unusual experience.  Some people were reserved, barely saying a word; others told the most intimate, the most revealing, often quite traumatising, things.  And your job was just to sit and witness what they were saying; to act like a mirror.  And a curious thing happened.  These people were a real mixed bag, all sorts, men and women, ranging wildly in age, shape, colour, class, character.  But, as I listened to them, as I focused on their faces as they talked, I started to feel…awed.  They were all just incredibly beautiful somehow. Each and every one of them.  I suppose you could say I fell in love with them. And I know that sounds horribly hippy dippy but it wasn’t like that – it was really quite indescribable, quite extraordinary, quite…beautiful. 

But then…what does the New York Times mean by ‘falling in love’?  Would I have wanted to jump into bed with these guys?  Would I have wanted to spend my life with them?  Would I have wanted to cuddle up by the fire cosy under the snugly throw with them?  Er, no. 
And, actually, the most interesting part of the study was the bit that isn’t being talked about so much.  The bit where the participants silently stared into each other’s eyes for two to four minutes.  And I did a little bit of that on the Zen retreat too – and, you know what, that really is the strangest thing.  Double dare you to try it.
Anyhow, what you really want to know is what the questions are, don’t you?  Here you go. 

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ... “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Back in the day, when I first started blogging, this kind of thing (but much shorter) used to do the rounds as a meme.  Maybe we should all answer the questions - and all fall in love with one another?  *smile*

And, you know, the thing that is still making me ponder, is the sheer ordinariness of it all. If one can fall in love with anyone, does that mean nobody is special?  Is there really no preference involved?  It's something I've been pondering for a while...this preference thing.  Another blog post maybe.    

Thursday 8 January 2015

30 Days xYz - Black Holes and Dark Matter, Holometabolism and Sinewaves - the poetry of the cosmos

My birthday tends to straggle on, for days, weeks even.  I rather like that it isn’t focused on one particular day.  It gives me time to adjust to being (numerically, at least) another year older.  And I like that my friends and family are as  blissfully disorganised as I am and so I tend to get cards and parcels for quite some time after the event (horizon).

And I like the fact that my manifestation skills seem to be perking up again.   The other day, a snugly throw; yesterday, snugly boots (just in the nick of time, as mine now have holes in the toes).  And today, a card from my lovely niece.  Columbia Road Market.  And all at once I’m transported back to my London days.   Every so often I’d get up early (way too early) on a Sunday, nab my friend Fi, and potter down to Columbia Road.   For those who don’t know, Columbia Road is a flower and plant market and there was something wildly uplifting about wandering around swathed in scent and colour.  There would probably be coffee and breakfast involved too – at a small cafĂ©.  

So, the card alone was enough.  But there was also a slim book enclosed, its cover green and gold, hinting of sacred geometry.  30 DAYS, it said.  xYz.  

And, on the back, an almost runic inscription: 
                                                              -- TIME IS NOW --

She knows me well, that nice niece of mine. 

I opened it. 

It’s a small book of poems superimposed on illustrations and inspired by cosmology and nature.  The poet created them, one a day, during April 2013, for National Poetry Week.  And it says things like…

"It’s always the same.
It always happens the same
with mass and energy:
one created destroys the other,
and the yin-yang of the stars
maintains the indifferent symmetry
of space and time."

And this…

And this…

And this...

I like it.  I like the thick sludge of its paper; the crisp clarity of its type.  I like its subject matter and its production.  I like its poems but I like them more because of the way they are presented.  And it strikes me that maybe this is the way to offer poetry to our modern minds.  Because it’s said (I typed ‘sad’ then and that true) that we don’t read poetry so much these days.  Maybe we might make poetry manifest, tickle it tactile, snaffle it sniffable and strokable.  A challenge maybe for my poet friends X, Y and Z?  

And Time?  The last gasp of the book says this:  Kairos - a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens, the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment).  Time is Now.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

The One - snugly throws reprised and re-snuggled

My son is a mass of want.  A maestrom of need.   He needs a new pair of football boots.  He needs cycling shoes.  Cycling shoes???  Really?  I bite my lip and resist the urge to say that, in my day, one had a pair of plimsolls and that was it – none of this ‘trainers for this, trainers for that’ malarkey.  To be fair, he buys his own stuff but still. 
‘Can’t you wait?’ I ask.
‘No.  I want them now,’ he mutters, clicking ‘Next Day Delivery’ with glee.
I sigh.  Sixteen and already the consumer world has its teeth in his throat.  When I ask him what he wants to do, what would make his soul sing, he says ‘Make money.’  I guess all teenagers rebel against their parents, huh? 

There’s not much I really want – not material things anyhow.  But occasionally, just occasionally something makes my fingers twitch with desire.  And, well, you know this ‘thing’ I have for snugly throws?  For the last five years I have been hankering after one particular one.  It’s wolf fur - fake of course – but just the softest, most beautiful thing.  Every so often, when I go away on retreat, there is something soft and snugly on the bed and – childish, I know – I snap a pic of myself embraced by softness.  But so far it hasn’t been exactly The One.
at Clinique La Prairie
At Yobaba Lounge

I’m a tactile beast – silky water, the hot kiss of fire, the caress of satin and cashmere.  Those are the skin-songs that seduce my soul.  But, of all these, there is nothing that beats the feel of fur on skin.  Maybe it’s atavism.  Maybe my DNA remembers a time when I curled up in caves, drenched in fur against winter’s sharp bite?  Or maybe, who knows, I just yearn to get back into my own skin?

A local shop has one (a brown wolfish snugly throw) and, once a year, every time they have a sale, I sneak in and stroke it softly and look hopefully at the price ticket.  But it’s still too much, even in the sale, and I can’t justify it, I just can’t - not when we need logs or oil or whatever.  And so I walk away and I tell myself, hey, it’s just a thing.  Who needs things?   And we don’t.  But we do need feelings.  We need sensuality.  We need softness.

Anyhow.  It was my birthday the other day and yesterday this parcel arrived.  A big fat squishy parcel.  And – yes - you guessed it…there it was.  My wolf.  My soft, soft wolfskin.  My mouth fell open, not in a perfect O but in a sort of slack-jawed village idiot way. 
‘Oh. My. God.’ 
‘What is it?’ said Adrian.  ‘Is it something for James?’
‘No, it’s for me,’ I replied.
‘Oh,’ he said.  ‘Who’s it from?’ Peering over my shoulder at the label.
‘It’s from Sandie,’ I said, pulling it out, rubbing it against my nose, against my cheek, wrapping it around my shoulders.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s a snugly throw.  THE snugly throw,’ I said, not quite sure whether to burst into a grin or into tears.  You see, it’s a bit of a symbol, this.  A bit emotional. 
‘Well, it will keep you warm,’ he said.  ‘No need for more logs.’
‘Indeed,’ I said.
And, last night, I curled up on the sofa in front of the dead fire and wrapped it around me and felt…almost safe.  The cave curled around me and, in comforting warmth, there was no need for words.  Just feelings. 

And it occurred to me, embraced in the sweet softness, that waiting can be good.  How much more does one appreciate something that doesn’t come easily, that can’t come with a click, that doesn’t offer instant, greedy gratification?  

Monday 5 January 2015

One word?

One word.  I’ve spent the Christmas break (in between barrages of exhaustive coughing) pondering on what my word is for the coming year.  Why?   Well, because apparently if one wants to change one’s life (presumably for the better) one should not focus on the externals (the new job, the new house, the new relationship, the new body, the new whatever) but on the feeling one wants.  It’s all to do with intrinsic, as opposed to external, motivation (or so the lovely Danielle Marchant says). 

Anyhow, it got me pondering.  What is my word?  What is it?  When in doubt, deflect the question (that old journalistic trick).  So I asked Kate and she planted her hands on her hips and said, firmly, ‘Strong. I want to feel strong.’ 
And I asked Sherry and she narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips and then said, slowly, sensually, ‘Passionate.  That’s how I want to feel.  Passionate.  About everything.’   
And it was tempting to nick both those as it would be very nice to feel both passionate and strong, but they weren’t right.  Not quite yet anyhow.  So I asked Jane, who had appeared on New Year’s Eve bearing champagne, tulips and seven loaves of bread (yup, seven.  I’d asked if she could detour via Blackstock Road and pick up a couple of flatbreads but she had gone to Waitrose instead and basically bought up the bread counter).   ‘What is your word?’ I said, as we sat by the fire (she glugging red wine and nibbling nuts; me mainlining lemon and honey and chewing garlic).  ‘Hmm,’ she said.  ‘Happiness.’ 
‘Nooo,’ I spluttered.  ‘That’s too vague.  What does happiness mean?’
‘Contentment?’ she suggested, tentatively. I shook my head, firm in my conviction that there had to be more.  One shouldn’t settle for ‘contented.’  It’s just too…much like giving up somehow.  Isn’t it?  Maybe not. 
‘Nope, sorry,’ she said, opening another bottle. ‘I just want life to be easy for once.’  And I get that, I really do.  But it still wasn’t right.  Not for me.

And so I turned to images, as I often do when words defeat me.  And I found that there was a theme; that they spoke a different language – one, not of my usual earth and my beloved fire and water, but of air.  And I don’t usually *do* air – it’s not my element at all.  Yet there it was…

And I coughed again and had to stop myself laughing because, of course, what is a chest infection but a problem of air, or lack thereof?  I even wrote about it in The Natural Year, my book on seasonal living.  About how coughing is, symbolically, the body trying to expel anything it doesn’t want – not just mucus and phlegm, but old emotions – ‘of taking in new energy and breathing out the spent; of taking in hope and expansive spirit and breathing out everything that is stagnant and repugnant for the soul.’ 

And it came to me that my word, for now, might be Lightness.  I need to feel light again.  I've had enough of feeling heavy, and claggy, and generally golem-esque, a creature of clay, bound by earth.  I want to fly, to lift up, to feel free and joyous and light and bright.  
So.  Light.  That’ll do nicely.  For now. 

How about you?