Love according to Bread

The Best of BreadTHERE ARE CERTAIN groups from the 1970s that were decidedly uncool to like, or at least uncool for guys to like. Bread was one of them. My sister had all of their albums, and I loved them. Listening to The Best of Bread this week, I find myself appreciating them even more as an adult who knows a little bit about the subject matter of their hit songs, which was almost exclusively one thing: love. I loved all love songs back then—the sappy ones, happy ones, sad ones, confusing ones. What did I know?

I knew nothing. And so I had no way of knowing Bread’s love songs were actually a cut above. I just liked them. And I felt something when I heard them…so maybe I did sort of know there was something special going on.

I’ve written before about how most love songs I grew up with put a lot of crazy ideas about love into my impressionable young mind. I’m still digging out from it, but think I’m safe in saying I have a much better understanding about what love is than I did as a tween. God, I hope so.

Bread’s love songs—all of the hits, anyway—are different because they are about real love, love that is about wishing the other person happiness and celebrating the happiness they bring to you. “Make It with You,” their first and only #1 hit, looks at trying to love without grasping after it, knowing it could last or not. It’s the politest “ask” in any love song I can think of.

Everything I Own” is about showing regret and appreciation of a love lost and sincerely wishing to try again. It’s about giving. “If” is just pure love through and through. These are not crazy love songs; they are about being in it together. Even “Baby I’m-a Want You,” which by its title might appear to be about wanting to possess and get something out of the other person, is different: it’s an admission of insecurity, the singer vulnerable and celebratory of the love he’s being given. Baby has-a done him wonders!

Diary by BreadDiary” takes vulnerability to the point of heartbreak, a sad song that ends on the sublime note of the singer wishing his beloved happiness with another man, the man she truly loves. Wow. Talk about turning away from jealousy! (Granted, he should not have been reading her diary.)

The most profound Bread hit, though, and perhaps the truest love song of the 1970s, is “It Don’t Matter to Me.” The song was also a favorite when I was a kid. This is a way better take on the “if you love somebody, set them free” theme Sting took on a decade and a half later. This isn’t telling someone else what to do (or whatever Sting’s song is about—I can’t really tell). This is personal:

It don’t matter to me
If you take up with someone who’s better than me
‘Cause your happiness is all I want
For you to find
Peace, your peace of mind

The singer loves somebody. He sets them free. He wishes them peace of mind. And he hopes they’ll come back to him in the end, but he has no guarantee of that. That’s love, friends.

Unconnecting and connecting

HERE IS SOMETHING adapted from what I wrote two months ago, in the middle of my Writing from the Chakras class. I had a hard time deciding whether to post this, which I guess is why you haven’t heard from me in a while. These two pieces arose from meditations on the Floating Chakra, imagining moving through the body’s chakras from root to crown and back again. I did it twice, a few days apart. It was an emotional week.

Unconnecting

I lay there prone, unable to get up. I just dreamed something powerful, already forgotten, and awoke feeling expansive and whole, my heart too big, too comfortable, too tender to disturb. I felt it building, a familiar creeping sadness, a place of such pure emotion. And I couldn’t leave it, couldn’t move out of it. A voice in my head calmly urged me on, told me to shake it, to move out of this into action. I couldn’t.

That’s when I lost it. That’s when it all broke down. The surging at my heart built up inside and, no place to go, burst out in heavy sobs, tears running down my face onto my hands, I couldn’t say why, my nose running, my body heaving now with the sobbing beyond control, the release of all that was pent up inside of me, the cat dying day by day before my eyes, my beloved roommate getting on my nerves, my going to the barbecue alone, my lover who I’m afraid to love, who I’m afraid doesn’t love me as much, my doubts about ever finding true love again, it all came spilling out.

Here I stayed, stuck, unable to get out of my heart, to free my voice to say the things I long to, to express what I need to, to get what I need from those I love or want to love, my fucking block that is killing my spirit, suffocating, strangling, a tourniquet above my heart, my heart and my head not connecting at all, my heart and my sex struggling to meet, my power weak, my voice silent, my brain functioning disconnected from all that matters, a severed spine, a disembodied jumble of energies and emotions, chakras scattered, a mind alone without the knowing what it would be like to feel whole for once.

It’s Independence Day. I’m reminded by the fireworks obnoxiously going off outside, the screaming sirens, and think how much I hate the word, the concept, the idea that we can be independent and that that is something to strive for and celebrate, that it is something good. I can’t do it alone. I can’t. Call it a weakness. I call it strength. I depend on you. You depend on me. Lean on me, it makes me feel better. Tell me your fears, my love. I wish I could tell you mine. Trust me like I trust in you. Hold me in your arms. Hold me in your heart. Help me. I feel so lost.

Mona and Emma

Connecting

Something opened in me these last few days, emotional days, the passing of my kitty, the heartfelt connections, friends coming through for me, my being able to speak, to tell my story, to hug my roommate, to cry together, to thank her; to kiss my man, my boy, to have not the courage, but, even better, the inability to stop myself from saying, “I love you so much,” our tight embrace under the stars at midnight, our coats and hats and hugs against the cold, our hands dirty from having buried Mona, an understanding at that perfect moment that we love each other in the truest sense of wanting to shelter each other from harm and sadness, of wanting each other to be happy, of his comforting me, of his bicycling clear across town after working all day to be there for me, to kiss me in the way only he seems to understand I like to be kissed, he knows, he takes my hands in his, he holds my gaze, he says, “I love you too.”

Later, sleeping, waking, watching him sleep, I think of all the things I want to say to him when he wakes up, and I feel power in it, like I can have some real agency in all this, I don’t need to be a victim of my own insecurity and inertia, and it’s enough to just know I can, it makes me feel better. And I think of loving without grasping, without needing anything in return, catch myself a few times from going down that familiar path and instead enjoy the moment, the luxury of the gift he gives to me, the gift of presence, calm and peaceful of mind, knowing there is no place I would rather be, nothing to do more important than this. It is not lazy, I want to correct him, one of the things I want to say. It is our gift to each other, a supreme kindness.

Eventually the noon siren goes off and I get up and pull on gym shorts and a wifebeater and slippers and I feed the one cat and make us English muffins even though he says he’s not hungry, one with peanut butter and jelly and the other with just butter so he can have a choice because he is a picky eater. “I don’t like peanut butter,” he says, and I vaguely remember that from once before. “You can have the other one,” I say and take a bite. “Do you want jelly on it?” He smiles. I go and put jelly on it and come back, put the plate down next to him on the bed. He eats it. I eat mine standing there next to him. We share a glass of orange juice. He wants me to come back to bed. I do. We kiss. He likes it despite the peanut butter.

Mona and Javi

First Take

Roberta Flack: First TakeBECAUSE IT’S MY FAVORITE chakra, I’ll post another piece I did focusing on the heart, this one based on an exercise called “Waking up clichés.” We were encouraged to take worn-out, heart-based turns of phrase—I immediately thought, 1970s love songs! Perfect!—and transform them into something fresh and new. Running with the Roberta Flack reference in the writing I’d just done, I chose to transform another of her songs in this reworking of an old story, parts of which I’ve told before.

First Take

Even from this distance, a half-block away, Rick could tell—Jesse in person was more gorgeous than in the photo he’d sent. In the photo, his face was half-hidden by a pulled-down baseball cap, posing, showing off the pecs and abs and narrow waist, nicely ripped but merely hinting at handsome. As they came within striking distance, Rick saw, he felt, as Jesse’s whole face erupted with a kind of childlike openness, what Patti Smith would call such naked joy, unusually wide-smiled beaming. Rick regarded the sexy scruff of a beard, the beauty mark on Jesse’s jaw. And those dark brown eyes unafraid—they held a glimpse of something, something deep; they told a story as ancient as the heavens, the formation of the planets, their moons, the sun and the stars, a story at once brilliant and dark, Jesse’s eyes profoundly happy and giving, and at the same time reflecting some of the gravity of sadness that is life. All this in an instant.

They embraced at once and exchanged a kiss, a polite kiss. They separated just enough, still hugging, to take another good stare at each other and smile. Jesse smelled faintly of tangerines and tobacco. They came back together, mouths open just enough for a proper kiss equal parts Jesse and Rick, lips and tongues licking teeth, tasting mint, slurping and sucking spit. Rick’s right hand moved automatically like it knew what it was doing up to the back of Jesse’s buzzed head, caressing the stubble, knocking his hat off kilter; and Jesse, too, pulling Rick closer, as if closer were even possible, boots up against sneakers, almost tripping, these two guys making out like teenagers on the sidewalk outside the Galleria Park Hotel at dusk on a Saturday night, the stores closed and the street pretty quiet, but still…

Jesse shuddered. Rick felt it. He held Jesse tighter, kept on kissing. It felt like the boy was on the verge of coming right there, standing, fully clothed, all this from a kiss, their first kiss, a damned good kiss. Jesse laughed into Rick’s mouth. He shook again, trembling tremors. Sensitive boy. Not three minutes past meeting and Rick felt protective of this sweet little guy, as if Jesse could collapse right there on the sidewalk if he weren’t there to prop him up. He reached a hand under Jesse’s sweater, first touch of the skin electric-warm as toast. He laid his hand lightly over Jesse’s heart, held it still, and all went quiet. He felt the heart beating, barely, felt his ribs, Rick’s fingers slotting into the spaces between, massaging, fingertips sliding outward, away from the heart, Jesse’s chest rising and falling. Rick found a hard nipple and gently squeezed. Jesse let out a little moan. Rick ate it up.

“You like that,” Rick said, not quite a question, his other hand moving down, slipping into the gap at the back of Jesse’s stiff, brand new-feeling blue jeans, resting there steady and flat on his sacrum. In that moment, Rick felt his own power, felt he could control this guy if he wanted to, send him soaring into the stratosphere and back, make him come right now, at his command, pressing buttons by kissing and moving his fingers just right.

* * *

“Fuck, papi, that was good,” Jesse said. He smiled. He and Rick lay naked on the big white hotel-room bed, spent. Yeah, it had been more than good. Rick had never fucked without a condom before. This was new. And he was fine with the decision, if you could even call it that, however unconscious and far from rational thought it had been. He had always strictly followed the safe sex mantra to use a condom every time, assuming every partner could be infected. He was tired of it all, tired of the loss and the fear and the barriers, the literal barriers between himself and his lovers. Rick had never felt so close, so trusting with a guy he’d just met. There was something about Jesse he couldn’t quite explain. It just felt right.

“We should use condoms, don’t you think?” Jesse had asked not a half-hour before.

“Yeah, of course,” Rick replied. “It’s not like we don’t both have sex with other guys.”

But when it came right down to it, it would have felt so wrong to stop, to tear open the packet, to do all of that… It would have broken the spell, Rick felt, interrupting the flow of the most intimate, knowing choreography of their sex. It would have introduced the buzz kill of death. It would have broken the fragile bond of trust already forming between him and Jesse, childlike in their ecstatic relief at having found each other, two lost souls wandering the barren wasteland of Craigslist looking for real connection and now celebrating their extreme good fortune, kissing the whole time fucking, eyes wide open and searching and smiling, breaking every gay-sex stereotype, their eyes wet and overflowing at the happiness that swelled within their bodies, over them, filling the room, the hotel, the whole of downtown, over the bridges, throughout the Bay Area, and into the dark, unknowable universe beyond.

Rick knew in that moment, Jesse’s body entwined with his own, heart pressed against heart, that he had found something, a satisfied peace previously unknown to him, a comfort in feeling accepted and sexy and lovable. He had been searching his whole life for this and wanted nothing more than to abide in the warm spaciousness of it forever.

He hoped, he sensed, that Jesse felt it, too, Jesse who was asleep beside him now. Rick was dead tired but couldn’t stop looking at Jesse, his smooth, taut body at once strong and vulnerable and small, sweaty, sticky salted-caramel skin and tan lines, sexy as fuck, eyes gently closed and the hint of a smile still on his face, his face, his beautiful face.

* * *

This was based on the beautiful, cliché-ridden song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” made famous by Roberta Flack, recorded in 1969 and released as a single after appearing in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971). It went on to become the #1 song of 1972 and is still the song most likely to make me cry

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the end of the sky

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hands
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time, my love

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face, your face

 

Open your heart

Dave X Robb undressing, Salt Point THIS WEEK MARKS THE END of my Writing from the Chakras class, and I’m going to miss it. I’ll especially miss the community of talented and giving fellow writers who have shared so generously the gifts of their own writing and the insightful feedback and encouragement they’ve given to me. And, tough as it’s been at times, both in terms of the time crunch of deadlines and the emotions stirred up by going deep, I will miss the structure that has held me these last 8 weeks.

I’ve not been able to keep up with posting on here weekly during the class, but I’ll still write a post sharing some of what I learned in each week. Today’s is about the Heart Chakra. If you know me at all, you can guess this was a big one.

One of my favorite parts of this class has been the meditations that go along with each chakra, where we are guided through visualizations and encouraged to reach deep within—in this case, to the heart—and then immediately after to freewrite, putting to the page whatever comes up, no stopping to think, to edit, to censor, to fix; just writing freely. It’s like writing in a trance.

As with the poetry I was writing a couple months back, I don’t know quite how these read to anyone who hasn’t gone through the same process with me; but I do know this kind of writing feels very freeing and will inform my writing in all its forms. Here you go, friends:

Madonna: Open Your HeartA Heart Chakra messy post-meditation freewrite

I feel such calm and knowing, here in this pure land of green and water. I love that I have come here alone, walked slowly on my own toward this destination of complete, blissful, tranquil abiding. I needed no map, no guide, simply trusting the echoes of my lifetime of accumulated wisdom and guidance.

I have journeyed in the bright white, warm sun, the sky and sea to my left both the same shade of bright blue, the faintest of breeze, not a soul in sight. I shed my burdens, my physical burdens, my cell phone, my wallet, my watch, my money, my keys, my belt, my shoelaces, my hat, my sunglasses, my shirt, my shoes and socks, my jeans, my briefs, my sunscreen, my moisturizer, my deodorant, my toothbrush, my dental floss, my soap and shampoo, my body scrub, my pumice stone, my nail clippers, my razor, my hair, my beard, my skin; I shed it all, leaving behind me a trail of my self.

And I have never felt so free.

Where am I going? Why? Am I escaping something, a leaving-behind; or is this a going-to, an arrival?

It is an arrival. Arrivals on the lower level, bypassing the baggage claim, I walk from the smoky, hazy, air-polluted interior through the automatic doors to the outdoors and find myself suddenly in a green forest, naked, then on a wide-open expanse of clifftop, the ocean over there, the waves crashing far below; I can barely hear them over the sound of my heart. The path takes me down gradually to sea level, to a sandy spot on the shore, and I collapse onto my knees, my hands and knees, lowering my face, then my whole body, to the warm sand. I fall asleep, the sun on my back equally warm, maybe a little warmer. It feels so nice.

I lie still and feel my heart pumping, the silverware-falling-from-the-sky-far-far-away sound in my ears—I’ve been told that’s the sound of the blood pulsing through—I sleep and I dream of this place, the same place, my dream of the dream of the land I come to inhabit when my mind takes a break from tormenting me and my heart opens up to the hope and the joy of the knowing I am safe and alone. I am happy. I have no fear, no ties, no possessions, no worries, only this joy and freedom and a heart bursting with love, so full it hurts me sometimes. It craves an outlet.

Salt PointI turn over, the sand stuck to me, the sunlight shining bright orange through my eyelids, burning, killing me softly, and I smile at the thought of you, my love, the blood still pumping, gathering and regrouping without my knowledge, without my having to do anything, without using hands, my cock stirring and growing, grains of sand falling off, whole cities, whole worlds erected in a grain of sand, I stretch and twist my body, I arch my back, I dig in my heels, molding a shape in the earth opposite that of my body, a container custom-made, a mold I fit in, I need nothing more than this, ever. I will never eat again. I will breathe, I will sweat, I might laugh or cry if I feel like it, and my heart will keep beating. I will bake tan, I will sleep, I will wake. I will shiver when night falls, wishing for a cover, a blanket or a warm body, your warm body beside me.

I turn back onto my stomach, I grind a new shape, I shiver, still alone, I awake in my bed not knowing the time or day or where the fuck I am, the memory fading as I piece things together, but still not knowing if I am alive or dead or sleeping.

Chakra sonnet

All of us still mere children and dumb
No way to release any of that pent-up spunk and energy
All at once joined perfectly and exploding with bright light and tears
I stay awake, big spoon, caretaker, watching your ribcage rise and fall
I knew, when I quieted enough to listen, really listen, to what my body whispered
Hold me steady, keeping me from falling or freezing or from punching someone in the face
The silverware-falling-from-the-sky-far-far-away sound in my ears
I get so tired of all the honesty

Addicted to affirmation, to performance, to love and good-looking boyfriends
I looked out the window, but there was nothing but black
Warmth enveloped me, holding my body like a lover, like a mother, like a child
Cradling each other’s vulnerable hearts, a lifetime’s worth of serenity in a single moment
Rebirth, the gift of another breath, another chance, a shot at starting over
I see and I understand because I have been there, too

Dave X Robb and Mona

No Secrets

Carly Simon: No Secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I get so tired of all the honesty.
Shut up, will you? Kiss me.
Wouldn’t a fight feel good right now?

I’m always hurting someone. I’m always sorry.
Pet your cat. Eat your breakfast cereal. Sail through life.
I feel the loss before I’m even out the door.
I drop my key through the mail slot.
The words I wish I could take back, the intentional hurt, the beating, the slap in the face, the punch in the gut, the gunshot through the heart.
I miss you.

One more, sure. One more drink. One more make-out session. One more condom wrapper torn open with your teeth. Fuck it.
No umbrella, no raincoat, no car, no cab fare home.
I’ll wear the same clothes to work tomorrow. No one will notice.
I’ll sleep under my desk. I’ll shower at the gym. I’ll get breakfast at Starbucks.
Beer breath, saliva thick, sucking my dick, sweating, humid, sticky, summer, mosquitoes in the room, blood stain on the sheet where you smacked one dead, the buzz of a neon sign, the tick of a loud clock, unfamiliar sounds.

When you close your eyes, I get to stare.
You open your eyes, you catch me staring.
You smile.

Fire escape

Ohio Players: FireI’VE PUT OFF POSTING about the Jewel Chakra, that fiery source of power at the gut, I realize. I could chalk it up to being busy and not having the time, but I think it’s also true that I don’t feel so secure in this place, the power center, and I feel similarly insecure in my writing about it. Power can be a scary thing. I feel like I have power, but that I don’t trust myself to exercise it—something to work on.  

Here’s what I think: If I were totally free, I would be so powerful and unafraid, there is no telling what I might do. I feel the strong, solid center, guarded deep in my gut, seemingly fresh and new since it has so rarely been used, a precious jewel, old and unpolished from having observed for so long, sidelined soaking in knowledge and experience all these years, a decades-long gestation, and just now beginning to emerge, late, better late than never.

I see an advantage to having waited this long, my wisdom ripened, ready to eat, juicy and sweet, dripping, running through my fingers, over my hands, down my arms as I offer up this fruit, wanting to share it before it spoils, overripe. I am eager but without panic. Now is the time to let this power shine. Now I have the tools to wield it skillfully, to control my anger and judgment, my jealousy and pride, my impatience, my irritation. Now I find power in pure love and patience, compassion, kindness, calm, and appropriate gravity.

My thoughts and impulses take shape in there, fetus-like, growing, developing into a coherent being, capable of breath and life on its own once it pushes its way out into the world. I tread carefully, still, but my preparation bestows the confidence to lie exposed and vulnerable, knowing I am in good hands, the hands of a midwife, incongruously my own hands holding me steady, nurturing, keeping me from falling or freezing or from punching someone in the face.

The Boxer: Simpn & GarfunkelI have never been a violent type, never a fistfight in my life. The closest I ever came was childhood fights with my tough-nut sister, a year younger than me, pulling hair, biting arms, crying a lot. I learned the mechanics of it as an adult in boxing class at the Y, skills I had never known, was never taught, skills still never used in real life, but nice to have under my belt for the confidence they give should it come to that, bashing back, the powerful snap of a hard punch.

A friend talked about the sex she had the other night and how she couldn’t get into acting out the hardcore discipline, slapping the other girl hard across the face—she could do it, she said, but it didn’t feel right. And I said I couldn’t do it. I have tried. I can’t smack someone, playing, not hard enough for it to seem real, so not in the way they want—not like I mean it, because I don’t. Rape fantasies, extreme power plays, pain, humiliation, whips and slaves, dogs and horses and pigs, cops and robbers, a gun to the head, a sharp knife edge, a boot to the neck, none of it holds appeal. Life is hard enough without that shit.

All these fantasies, ways to escape from reality! Give me mindful presence. Give me eyes open and paying attention. Give me reality. (This is why I don’t drink, in case anyone was wondering.)

But here’s a power I can get behind: the power to ask for what I want, to tell him what I want to do, to free myself to express what I keep locked down, to say “I love you” in the throes of it all and not care what happens next.

Meditating on the Jewel Chakra Jewel: Pieces of You

I feel warmth swirling through my body, enveloping me like a blanket, a hug, a furnace. I feel some melting happening, drops sizzling on the hot stones, and am surprised to know I am still frozen in places I would have guessed had long ago thawed. I catch a glimpse of the power I harbor and know if I were totally free and in my power, I would be happier, free from fear, fear of the fire that warms me but that also threatens to burn.

I fear the hot energy of anger, of the fight, preferring the coolness and calm of the lake deep in my lower body, the even-numbered chakras comfortable resting places, landings on the Kundalini stairway; the odd ones seeming, well, odd, unfamiliar, intimidating, uncomfortable. The peacemaker in me doubts the fire, not to be played with; the controller in me wants to keep it contained, clear-cutting a break, locating the nearest exit in the event of emergency, the fire escape.

What might I unleash if I give in to it? I go there in my mind sometimes, to a place where I assert my wants, my needs, without second-guessing. I imagine myself acting without fear, and I see the fruits of my freedom. I jump off the cliff and know my wings will open to catch me, the parachute unfurling as I glide free and safe and exhilarated.

I go a step further and actually do it once in a great while, boldly asking for what I want, approaching the stranger, speaking my mind. It always works out. I always feel better afterward, so why don’t I do it all the time? What holds me back? I know enough at this point to be able to trust that I won’t do something stupid.

Led Zeppelin: PresenceMistakes are one thing; the disasters I imagine, the irreversible, irreparable harm I must unconsciously imagine (otherwise why hold back?)—these are fantasies, mind-creations never to see the light of day. Action is karma; it ripens upon me no matter what. I might as well have some agency around it all, might as well take part in this life, take the wheel and guide it, with or without the map, getting lost, hell, flipping and rolling the vehicle. This is life.