Romanticism is a state of mind that stems from vulnerability and an open-hearted relationship with the world. A true romantic experiences compassion, empathy, curiosity and energy. Romantics are moved to the core by something, be it beauty, pain, sorrow, rage, joy, impermanence, diversity, loneliness or vastness. Whatever it is, it stirs a romantic to the bone. The wide-eyed wonder and open-hearted sensitivity of a child is easy for a true romantic to relate to. Of course, even romantics will endure disappointments and thus feel less moved by their surroundings for periods of time – but in their natural state, a romantic is sensitive to the nuances of the world.
Romanticism is feeling a song in the pit of your stomach. Filling yourself with the scent of a forest. Feeling chills run down your back from listening to a violin solo. Caressing a kitten and finding it so delicate and beautiful that you shake. Tearing up at the sight of a wounded bird. Feeling a raging volcano in your chest upon watching a video of children being abused. Being in awe of the vastness of nature. Feeling the grass between your toes. Learning something about yourself from observing an animal. Savoring the taste of a bloody steak and feeling energy run through you as you eat it. Listening to the beat of your own heart. Being mind blown by the vastness of space and curious about what it is made of. Pondering your own mortality and feeling grateful for the wonder of life. Feeling inspired by the integrity, brilliance, strength, honesty or beauty of a person, animal or plant.
Complimenting a lover in order to make them want to get naked with you, is not romanticism. It is seduction. It is, in essence, stimulating someone’s ego for the sake of a result. I have nothing against seduction. I am simply drawing a contrast. Daydreaming about a future with someone is not romanticism either. It is human to want a partner, and to wish to sustain a connection with someone you feel close to.
I am completely in favor of traditional acts of chivalry – but this is not the same as genuine romanticism. It may be coupled with romanticism, but in itself, that is not what it is. It is only romantic if every action is felt at the core. If you are dancing along with the flow of your feelings. It is romantic if it is an expression of how generous that person makes you feel and the kindness your lover awakens inside of you.
Traditionalism is romantic if and only if it is an expression of one’s beliefs and lifestyle, and genuine understanding and respect for the traditions it arose from. It may be romantic if it is an expression of reverence for your culture, the culture of specific ancestors, or a state of mind that you truly possess. But it is not romantic if someone walks a walk and does not feel the rhythm running through their core. I am not claiming it’s wrong or evil to do that, but simply that it is not romanticism.
My theory about why “romanticism” is conflated with relationships, is that being attracted to someone awakens certain hormones and chemicals which induce such a state temporarily. Expression of these feelings is known as “romance” – and that is not incorrect. But, a person is not innately “romantic” because they are turned on by the prospect of a relationship. A person is a romantic at heart if they are in a romantic relationship with the world, regardless of whether or not they are currently dating anyone. This romanticism, of course, will be augmented in love and shared with a lover, if it is part of someone’s general personality. However, if it is induced in someone solely by the prospect of sex and relationships, the person will fade back to their usual state in a long-term relationship.
Much like God is a personal experience, I acknowledge that Love is a personal experience.
If you believe in God, then, God is real to you. And I accept that you may be right.
Likewise, if you believe in Love, it is real to you.
Love may exist for others.
And I don’t doubt that your love is true.
I believe you. I believe it is real because you name it, you embrace it, you own it and you believe it.
It is simply the most sacred thing on Earth and it remains sacred in my eyes as well.
But, I do not believe I can be loved.
I can be admired, seduced, chased, adored… but not loved.
The moment I love someone back, they can’t handle my passion.
I am like a wildfire. Everyone watches from their windows as it consumes the faraway mountaintops. Their minds are filled with dreams and fears as they stare in awe at the beautiful chaos before them. But if that fire comes too close to their home, they will go to any length to put it out.
I have suffered a lot in my life. I’ve had my heart broken beyond belief, twice in the past. I lost my voice, my passion, my everything. I lost my autonomy. But through all my losses, I still believed in love. I still believed that one day, I would find love.
I cannot believe it anymore. I can be admired, and men can obsess over me and praise me to the skies, and believe me, they do. But the moment I become vulnerable, and I am no longer an exciting chase, they are turned off, gone. I am no longer beautiful in my honest, bare, bleeding form. My vulnerable emotions, my caring, my tears, my will to give and give, to merge, to BECOME this passion that consumes me, to be there for him when he falls, to admire him, to sing his praises… it arouses terror and hatred.
I know how to play chase-me. I can win that game every time. But I do not know how to share my true, honest, vulnerable heart without scaring men away.
Please, if you believe in love, do not let my musings implement doubt in your minds. You are not me. You can be loved. I cannot.
How can you convince someone that it’s logical to choose an intensely difficult path simply because their heart pulls them toward it?
If it isn’t logical to follow my heart to the ends of the Earth, why does it feel so right? Why does it feel so wrong to do otherwise? As a human animal I have the capacity for passion, emotion, and reason. Nothing feels quite right unless all of those components align. If something feels so right, then it must be logical.
I can’t prove that my heart always leads me to the right place. But I know it does. I believe it, and trust it, and so it leads me exactly where I need to be. It’s impossible to convince anyone that this is logical. The only logic behind it is that there is no other point in being alive. What is the point of life if we let love slip from our grasp? What is the point of surviving if you aren’t living? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? What gets you through a hard day’s work? What is it all for?
My dreams are logical because they exist. Because my desire is more tangible than the bed I am burning in. My dreams are my reality and reality is what you make it. Life imitates art and art imitates life. My dreams are life.
When my heart sings, it screams. It howls and bleeds and burns. There is no mistaking that song. My body tells me what I feel and my feelings tell me what I am.
Somehow, some way, I follow my heart and beat the odds senseless. Someone who is fit to be my partner would do the same. If his heart burns for me, it would be logical to seize me at any cost. I am far from perfect, but I am irreplaceable.
When we meet someone who stirs us to the core, we feel vulnerable. Then we will go to great lengths to protect ourselves, even do stupid things, or things that are inadvertently cruel. Even the most reasonable, dignified, respectful person will falter when feeling vulnerable. The eyes of a soul mate unravel you, make you feel naked. When your humanity is exposed, your animal instinct is to protect it.
If you’ve been perfect in romance, and treated your partners perfectly, you haven’t loved. You haven’t confronted your humanity. If you confront this only in private, you haven’t made yourself vulnerable to someone else. To make yourself vulnerable to someone else is to expose your weaknesses, fears, shame and rage, bare for them to see. To accept theirs in turn. To follow them to the darkest, most frightening, torturous corners of their psyche. Mentally, this is to dive into lava and tornadoes, to stand naked in a snowstorm, to follow them into the void, to their fear of death, to their childhood traumas, just to be with them, so they won’t be alone there. To open yourself up to chance; to surrender control.
After experiencing various levels of surrender and openness, one may feel that a soul mate truly knows them, and has seen them bare. There may be love, honesty and mutual acceptance. Ideally that would be the case in any relationship or friendship. But what separates a soulmate from the regular companion or lover is that a “soul mate” would not be dependent on a relationship. It is an unbreakable bond. It just is. A soul mate just is. You can fight as hard as you want to break the bond, you can walk away for years, you can marry someone else, you can deny it to the skies, but still, your soul mate just IS. To use a word like “soul,” one implies transcendence of desire, lust, and fear. Of course, those human elements are real and will never disappear, but when we truly accept and recognize a soul mate, the bond is beyond that. Frustrations and fear of loss will be there, but the outcome becomes irrelevant because the soul is stirred by something beyond. In recognizing a soul mate, we recognize ourselves, here and now. The synchronicity between you will push you both to grow, just as watching yourself in the mirror pushes you to pose in a more beautiful way. If your mirror had an emotional reaction, posing would not be enough. You would work out, eat right, care for your skin and hair, change your lifestyle just for that smile. The difference is, for a “soul mate,” this person mirrors your innards. Your mind, your soul, your humanity.
When someone sees you, watches you, unravels you, exposes you; you want to give, to grow, to be better in order to inspire that person, because you will see yourself through their eyes. You will never wonder whether that person is doing it for you in return, because it just is; expressing yourself to this person is being true to yourself, and it feels natural. Giving them anything less than your all feels unnatural; it feels like trying to stand still while the tide is pushing against you. Most people will do this for some time, resisting the forces of nature to try to feel like they are in control, to feel a sense of free will, to take a stand. But once you have recognized and accepted that you have met your soul mate, and grown enough to surrender to that force, you work with the tide without losing your own will. Your will is the will of the world. Giving your all is a natural process of revelation and growth, and all that matters is that this process is happening. It is honest, true; it is now, and it is infinity. With or without labels, commitments, sex, promises, or expectation, it simply is.
The trials and tribulations of corporeal life cannot touch something that is truly sacred. But we cannot recognize what is truly sacred until we, ourselves, have evolved. To recognize something greater than ourselves requires humility. Meeting a soul mate is not an easy, happy ride. It is a life changing experience that digs up all of our demons and fears, and forces us to face our humanity.
Memories are the devil’s lure, tempting us to remain immobile. Good memories tempt us with their sweet song and lead us to resent ourselves and others for their impermanence. Bad memories lure us to succumb to cynicism. Memories are just as fantastical as dreams for the future. They exist only as constructions in our present mind. Memories and dreams are tools to use in the present. If we use them as tools, they can be harnessed to enact our passion and purpose so that we are living in the present with a powerful feeling of being part of something greater than ourselves. The journey becomes the destination. All feelings and thoughts about past and future can be harnessed in the present, but they must be understood as mental constructions or else they will lure us deeper into themselves.
I am animal, human, and symbol at once. Animal is my instinct, appetite and desire; my will to survive. Human is my mind, ideas, and imagination. Symbol is my identity and legacy; my place in the world. Symbol is the only one that will transcend mortality but in and of itself, it’s out of my control, as it is dependent upon how other people view me. If Animal and Human harmonize to attain clarity of purpose, then Symbol would reflect my sense of self.
There was a time in my life when I was stripped of my goals, my dreams, my youth, my independence, my pride. All that was left of me was my will to survive. I battled imminent death for months, unable to move or swallow, then emerged with most of my faculties, but not my voice, which was my passion, purpose, identity, and lifeblood. Beyond that, I knew I would be dependent on expensive medicines indefinitely, unable to work much. My IQ was lower due to brain damage from high fevers, I lost my hair, I had arthritis which made walking difficult, and I could not sleep without an onslaught of medications.
I was stripped of my humanity and laid bare. My photography and self-expression was the only thing that made me more than just an animal at the time. At the very best, this turned me into a symbol. The art represented what I really was: a naked, scratched and bruised animal, with nothing to love but its memories of being human. My photos displayed this. Outside of artwork all I wanted was to feed, fuck and compete. I had no friends, only allies and adversaries. I had no love, only flesh and innocence upon which to feed.
What it means to be an animal, stripped of your humanity, is: fearless, shameless, apathetic. Fearlessness is not courage, shamelessness is not confidence, and apathy is not strength. These states of mind are emptiness, nothingness, animalism. Some people reach this state and don’t want to live but, having fought for my life, I was in touch with my survival instincts. I wanted to survive, and I had this tiny modicum of hope that one day, I would live again. That the ghost of my past would be resurrected.
I crashed and burned until the phoenix burst and I was reborn over and over… and each time, I came closer to finding my passion and purpose, until finally I sang lead through my whisper on my album which was the last piece of the puzzle that made me human again. Human: compassionate, vulnerable, scared, ashamed, angry, open, wounded, alive.
In my case, this episode of animalism has been deeply incorporated into my understanding of myself and the world. For a while, I tried to reject the animal altogether, but then it came back full force, twice as hungry. The only way to move past it was to stop hating it. To embrace it. To love it. To know that it is part of me, but there is also more to me than just that. I am animal, human and symbol at once.
Embrace the animal and you will know what makes you human as well as what makes you you, what gives you identity and place in the world. When someone rejects their inner animal – or mine – honest communication is impossible.
I thought I would feel like ‘enough’ when I finished my album, but then I finished it and it wasn’t good enough. I was proud of myself that I did it at all, and that I fought the good fight, but the quality and expression couldn’t measure up to what I heard in my head. The next one will be closer, I told myself. And this is the cycle with all of my work that I will continue for the rest of my life. The day my work is enough is the day I’ll stop working and then I will lay down like Yoda on his death bed, smile, and merge with the cosmos.
My life has been full of difficulties. I’ve had the kind of life where I lost everything through no fault of my own, fought for my life and survived, was driven to the bottom of the darkest parts of my psyche, got a taste of what it feels like to live for many years with absolutely nothing to lose and thus no fear, no shame and no sense of regret until I started building myself back up again. When asked about my personal difficulties, I could easily write a novel.
To sum it up, I was musically gifted at an extremely young age, basically a child prodigy, writing full songs by age 8 and selling songs to directors for shows by age 11. At that young age I wrote my first 400 page science fiction novel as well. I was performing, piano and vocals by age 13, and on my way to a Broadway career at 16 when I was afflicted with an illness that made me unable to walk, so confused I didn’t know who I was, couldn’t move, in so much pain I couldn’t swallow food, lost most of my hair, and lost my voice. I emerged after a while – about six months of immobility and another few years of intermittent disability. Many of my IQ points never recovered and I lost my voice forever; I now speak in a whisper. On top of that, my first boyfriend who was my hero during all of this, devoured my virginity and my innocence and ultimately broke my heart.
My entire life was spent working my hardest at school and music, only to have it all taken away. With my voice I lost my identity and sense of purpose. With my boyfriend I lost my faith in love. I started living life as a symbol of myself. I could no longer do music, and expressed myself through very intense photography in college.. nudes of myself covered in blood.
My outfits were extreme; what was left of my ruined scraggly hair that fell out from illness was dyed bright pink, and I was a vampire, sucking the innocent blood from beautiful men who loved me, hungry and thirsty for even a momentary taste of something pure, someone else looking at me with love, another artist looking at the world with wonder, another musician playing his heart out. I was on my knees for such childlike wonder and aimed to devour it as though I could recover but a modicum of my own dreams. Once I had sucked him dry and become the main focus of his attention I would toss him out and aim to devour the next innocent.
My creative outpour was extreme – I slept once every other night or every three nights, had no real schedule, though I always made it to class and aced everything – and constantly created; had no real friends, just outpoured photo after photo, and other projects, which were hung all around the school. Within months I was in charge of the photo department but was sneaking in through a window I propped open after hours, to blast Marilyn Manson and NIN and have all four enlargers to myself so I could super-impose dead cats over my naked body and exploit my losses and my rage. I had to take copious amounts of LSD and force myself to play piano in order to cry; the rest of the time I was angry, lusty, hungry, empty. My masochism was directed mostly at my body – I would starve myself and eat nothing but vegetables for weeks – not because I thought I was fat, but simply because I wanted to prove I had enough control to do it. Everything was about control, control, control.
I would work out alot, barely sleep, barely eat, make my body into a perfect sculpture and a symbol of my own pain, deprivation, loss and suffering. I took a lot of self portraits. I conducted experiments on myself, taking LSD and trapping myself in various scenarios (like on a mountain with nothing but a notebook, in my room but not allowed to use anything for expression except a keyboard that was being recorded)… to ‘see what would come out.’ My body was a vessel for self-expression and I had to force it to cater to my whims. My sex life included violence so extreme that I’d be full of cuts and blood and could not even shower because the water hurt my scratched up skin too much. I had an alternate name, Anäeia, which I called myself only in my photos, and it was my ‘vampire name.’ Short for “Annihilate.” Everyone knew me as a legend, because of the power of my work, but I hardly spent time with anybody, and prowled around the campus late at night with my giant headphones, my pink hair and long trench-coat making love to the wind. Anyone I spent real time with was either an artistic collaborator, a mind-game opponent, or ‘prey.’
I came out of that by spiraling even lower, into cycling through downers and opium and other things..until finally I hit rock bottom and drank half a bottle of acid. I saw the underside of hell and worse. Luckily I blacked out for about 8 hours of that trip. When I woke up, it took some time for me to have any idea who I was, and I had to build myself back up from scratch. My best friend & nemesis helped me by challenging me to do logic games and arts.. pushing me hard so I could remember who I was, and not just continue living as a shell of myself. After that, I cleaned up. No more drugs and wild sex and escapades. I wrote two complete novels and parts of others. Ultimately I became very focused on writing a fantasy novel and slowly started writing songs again, singing through my whisper. Somehow during all of this I managed to graduate from a great college with straight As.
After college I worked for a few years then moved to the city to front my own band, singing through my very undependable whisper, and building a healthy lifestyle around the aim of sustaining as much vocal capability as I possibly could. I wrote all the songs, arranged, auditioned the band members, played keyboard and sang, managed, promoted, did websites, ultimately produced the album. I also managed an apartment where roommates came and went, and invested lots of money into building rooms in the loft so my rent could be lower & I could focus on music. My life became full responsibility, living my dreams, chasing my childhood dreams at full force, and no interest in men or drugs.
Now my health has betrayed me again, and I was forced to move back upstate because my chronic illness did not take well to the city. My whispery singing voice evaded me again and my band fell apart through no fault of my own. But I am contentedly and calmly writing my book in a gorgeous location upstate, taking long walks, exercising, single, solitary and independent, and completely in love with life. None of my friends are local, and I am happy spending most of my day on my home planet in my novel.
As long as I feel like a human, an animal, and a symbol at once, I feel alive. I am being true to myself. Every shower is so carnal it’s spiritual; every motion connects my body with the cosmos; I am true to my instincts. I embrace my tumultuous emotions; they are fuel for my work and my purpose. My body is my canvas, my clothes are my paintbrush. Everything I own, wear, and do is an expression of self. I am a vessel through which music, art, stories and messages emerge.
This is always the case, regardless of my state of health. But just being me isn’t enough. I need to stand for something, to express something; my battle against the odds, my rise from the ashes. Even my dedication to expression in and of itself is something to stand for. Having something to express, a passion and a purpose which means something to me, gives me a sense that I am living rather than surviving. But regardless of the shape or meaning of my expression, strength comes from only one source: integrity. As long as I have my integrity I’m living; without it I am surviving. The loss of integrity is the only loss that is truly devastating. As long as my expression, my purpose, my existence, my friendships, and my choices are connected to my sense of integrity, I am whole. To me, integrity is, simply, being true to myself. The world can take my assets… my health, my work, my money, my hair, my friends… but if it wants to take my passion and integrity, it will have to kill me.
Soul-shaking, earth-shattering passion is something that grabs hold of you. It’s not something you can look for. When it grabs hold of you, there’s nothing in the world that isn’t worth doing to make it work. It’s no longer about pride, dignity, power, influence, control. All it is, is life. It comes along with the natural impetus to be more selfless; to be a better, bigger person. To grow beyond the capacity we thought ourselves capable.
No matter how unrealistic, illogical, nonsensical and impractical desire may be, a feeling like that is what living is about. It’s the difference between living and surviving. It’s worth hurting for, fighting for, yearning for, suffering for. The roller coaster ride of desire and obsessions is painful and can make a person want to shut down and regain control for the sake of sanity. But that would be surviving, not living. I will do everything in my power to embrace the dreams and challenges that bring me to life. Desire is insanity. Or perhaps it’s the least insane instinct of all.
Power is having the strength to overcome adversity. Building up influence, building skills, saving money to be autonomous; these can help inner strength to build through self-esteem that results from hard work and effort. But true power is within yourself. When all else falls apart for reasons beyond your control, power is having the strength to stand strong, stay true to yourself, hold on to your integrity, and triumph.
Power is resisting the urge to betray your integrity, become vengeful, angry, hostile and self-destructive, when life fucks you over. Power is keeping your eye on your goals and moving forward no matter what else happens. Power is trusting yourself. If you have your integrity, you will always have power.
Power is rising above the trials in your life to keep the dreams of your childhood in sight, even when the world has stripped you of everything else. No matter how out of reach your dreams may seem, there is always a path back to them, and that path is inside of you. As long as you remember how to find your dreams, you will have power.
Inner strength and fidelity to self is mastery of life. As long as you have that, you are an unstoppable force. You don’t have to scramble to ‘get power’ because you already have it, and nobody can take it away from you.