Thursday evening, I listened to newly married couples talk about their newly married-ness for two hours, and the wine bottle got stuck early at the other end of the table. The cheese plate was no help. A day and a half before Valentine’s, I needed the red. The couples delighted and fit, brought in to talk about exactly what they were talking about, so I buried myself taking notes. Any question wouldn’t have come out right.
The scribbles did all right the next morning, helping as we searched for a narrative. The story was holding together better than I was. When it came time for someone to explain the couples to the group, I turned the role down flat. Cardinal sin, I knew it. No was hardly an answer. If I hadn’t been me, I would’ve been up in my face on a denial. But I liked the people whose story we needed to tell and what they represented. And while we had their story, I knew I didn’t. The words were all there, but the conjunctions were uncoordinated, damp or martially blanked.
With brainstorming next, things improved. “How might we help people reflect on their relationships?” was the question, and I liked the verb. Along with an idea to give everyone anywhere a mirror, another to do interviews for playback like Gladwell’s thin-slicing, a third to ask for an adjective each like a Sun-Times weather forecast, something involving a pair’s shared jetpack, and a lost minute where I couldn’t find words for your reflection in a penny fountain, a house of mirrors ran to mind. Unexpected images were the life we tried to keep in the funhouse.
A friend liked the idea, and we built the house metaphor into a concept forcing the conversations but also welcoming them. What if your lover lost vision? What if the person you saw each morning and night got an awful haircut? What if the one you liked had scissors for hands? What if somebody lost a job? What if there was a kidnap? As we presented, raising the photos, talking and taking questions, the crowd seemed to engage with the possibilities. The kidnap prompt got shock, we heard later, and the overarching idea left one listener near smiling tears.
I was surprised too. I was happy a random idea had fit the challenge, for sure. But the power of getting to opening words, even as we have to get there over and over again in our lives, is always so unexpected.
I don’t know what love looks like anymore, and I’m not going to know anytime soon. I constructed the universe where love used to live. Then the stars blew up one by one and the universe collapsed. Now I know love is constructing me, not the other way around. With more practical terms, I have to ask and answer, to put on the duct tape and rip it off.