December 25, 2012

Extracting the Essence

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 12:06 pm

I Don't Know How to Love You

When I first met my partner, Neal, back in 1988, during one of our marathon talks he described his goal of not simply “eating the hamburger,” but “eating the hell out of the hamburger” — in other words, not just enjoying, but enjoying to the fullest. It puts me in mind of bumper-sticker advice that was popular a few years back: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘WOW . . . What a ride!’” Used up. Maximum enjoyment. Years later, Neal and I splurged on a pricey dinner while taking a riverboat cruise. As the waiter served our meals, Neal and I made a pact to eat as slowly as possible, not only savoring each bite but taking turns describing the flavors and textures to each other. Looking back, I realize that was our attempt to totally immerse ourselves, extracting the essence of the Experience.

I’ve thought about this concept a lot over the years. How does one go about fully appreciating something? I think our unspoken quest to do this underlies our obsession with cameras. There have been times when I have been looking at something of exquisite beauty — a cloud formation, an intensely-colored rainbow streaking across a pewter-gray sky — and I have actually caught myself in the process of yearning for ways to fully capture and embrace everything I was seeing. Sometimes that yearning manifests in the wish that I could take a photo, but even that would not preserve the perfect aching moment of raw, lived experience.

As I write this, my family has gathered in the East Bay from several corners of the United States in order to carry out two tasks: to mourn the death of my sister, who was taken from us suddenly eight days ago, and to celebrate Christmas as enthusiastically as mourners can. Last night we were all at my parents’ house in Pinole and I as I looked from face to face — my son, my grandson, my nephews, my nieces, my Mom and Dad, my brother — that old feeling came to visit: How can I fully appreciate the wonder of this experience, that we are all together, that I can actually reach out and touch my niece who lives in Tennessee, someone I can normally only keyboard with? What would that look like, that deep appreciation? Walking around the room and holding each family member, gazing into their eyes for long minutes? They’d think I lost my mind.

I don’t have an answer. The result is that every time I am in a moment of Grave Importance — beholding beauty in nature or sitting in a room full of loved ones — I always feel a spine-scratching anxiety, something like the inner voice whispering, “Remember this, this is important, soak it up, take it in.” But I’m never sure I’ve enjoyed it enough, certainly not in proportion to its monumental import.

I believe that our inability to express our love as fully as we feel it manifests not only in our desire to capture our feelings on camera (or, as artists and poets know, on canvas or in verse) but also in our desire to merge with the object of our adoring gaze. And I’m not referring to intimate merging (although loving partners will know that yearning). Many times I’ve been out in nature and have felt such a surge of gratitude for the beauty around me that I wanted to become one with the landscape. You think tree-huggers are weird? I think they’re just acting out that primal dilemma: “I don’t know how to love you enough but that’s not going to stop me from trying.”

This morning there are photos of Christmas Eve pasted all over Facebook, attempts at capturing last night’s gathering. And I’m glad we have the photos. I’m glad we have the memories. It’s just that I’m still working on a way of extracting the essence of all that love and beauty in the moment that it surrounds me. I still don’t know how to do it. What’s worse, looking back over this blog piece, I realize I don’t even know how to write about it.


  1. As usual, Ann, I couldn’t have said this better.
    When Evelyn was born, I made sure we had someone there to deal with the video camera – otherwise Charlie would have spent more behind it trying to capture the moment than being in it.

    As an artist, I have to be careful to keep myself present, not thinking about whatever project I’m working on or future tripping in any way. I know that drawing or writing about a scene is a different way not only to record reality but also to process our perception of it… Being in the moment is one of the greatest challenges we face as humans, ironic because thinking “what if” got us where we are.

    Thank you for writing this. xo

    Comment by Alana — December 26, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

  2. Thank you for your comment, Alana, thank you for sharing your personal experience with this, and THANK YOU for understanding. I honestly didn’t know whether anyone else would understand this personal dilemma of not knowing how to ‘enjoy the hell out of the hamburger.’ I’m so grateful that you get it.

    Comment by Ann — December 26, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

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