At SXSW Music Festival in 2013 a group of musicians/writers/and filmmakers were asked to write a letter to the song they wish they had written. Most of us deviated from this instruction. I wrote my letter to the entire concept of love.
If you like to be read to, you can listen here (also includes a previously released version of Glory of Love)
You are the word. The word that matters most. And the one most devoid of meaning. You are the word that my Swedish friend said she has used only one time, because in Sweden, to say the word to someone once in a lifetime is more than enough for many lifetimes. But you are also the word that advertisers in America use to sell hotdogs and shoes. In our age of hyperbole you are used so often that to hear your name sometimes makes me cringe.
And yet, you are one of the words that I use the most, that occupies my mind and heart. And the only damn thing worth living for.
But if I had written you, love, I would have split you, like an atom, revealing your power. Fracturing you so you spread across the universe in all your glorious colours.
Love, if I had written you, you would have so many siblings. A word for the feeling that a mother’s smile evokes, and one for the feeling that accompanies the afternoon sun, hot on your cheek, as you kiss your lover in the park.
I would have sliced you like a master sushi chef slices the fish, finely and expertly, across the grain to release the flavour. Because how can I use one word to explain how I feel about two different people? Each love is its own animal: one has horns, one has scales, one can’t even walk, the other can fly.
There would be a special word for the dark, dangerous love, the insatiable and voracious burning for the lover who does not treat you well. And there would be a word for when that love shatters. When it becomes instantly clear that you cannot feel what you have been feeling for someone who would hurt you so willingly.
And for Jason, who put a bullet in his brain a year ago, there would be a word for the love that I have wrapped up specially for him and sent back in time so that he could breathe it in with his last breath. So that he could know that even in that darkest time he was loved, and not alone. Because I believe love is a time machine and can cut across the grain of time to find the ones who need it most. Even if it changes nothing. It changes everything.
Where is the word for the love that strikes so suddenly, with excruciating brilliance, lasting only a split second but leaving ripples and sparks that bounce around the edges of your vision and make everything glow?
I need a word for the love love, The One, the one that is the one after the last the one. Because when you love like I do you know there’s bound to be a few. But they cannot be numbered sequentially. Each must be the one. Not the two.
If I had written you, love, and all your compatriots, I would have been sure to include a word for the feeling of being without someone whose presence makes you possible. The person whose love has stripped you of all the other versions of you and left you naked and gleaming and new. There must be a word for that gaping lack, when the words ‘I miss you’ fall so short of the need for expression that they lose meaning. But twined with that missing, that ache of the phantom limb, or phantom heart, is the deep calm, gratitude and happiness of just knowing that that person exists on the other side of the world. And you will see them again. Where is the word for that?
And what of the love for friends, old and new, the friend you only know for a weekend, whose presence in your life leaves an indelible mark?
And the love for your hero? The author or musician with whom you once shook hands? Where is the word for the feeling that springs up in the space between your palms as you touch, a divine creativity that spreads through you and flows out and follows you home and inspires you to write your own words or melodies?
Most of all I want a word for that feeling that happens when you are alone, completely alone, and just totally at peace. Feeling everything at once, and nothing in particular. Fleeting moments in a whirlwind life.
But I also want a word for how I feel about food. How it makes me dance and sing. A word for the soaring satisfaction of getting what you want and loving it so deeply and viscerally, because you are eating it and it is now inside you.
Love, were you my creation, I would have written words for the feelings about books, and art, and knowledge. Because those feelings are all love, but each is unique and sublime and cannot be compared to the others.
And what about the words of love for cats, and squirrels, and platypuses, and spiders, and snakes? And the night sky, and trees, and rust? And the abiding love for humanity when it is at its best, in its search for knowledge, in caring for others, or exploring the cosmos?
‘What do you love more?’ they ask. I do not love things all the same. But it’s not a question of more or less; it’s a question of texture, or flavour, or light.
Love, you are all of these things. And more. And more. And yet, love, you have been stripped of meaning by being used, overused, abused, tweeted, linked, liked and clicked on.
So how is it that I can say ‘love’ after all the hundreds, thousands of times I have said it, tweeted it, linked it, liked it? How can I say it and have it still feel true?
Each time renewed.
Love, if I had written you, and all your siblings, all the words we would need to know to express ourselves, our language would be stuffed to bursting with a specialised vocabulary. And maybe we would understand love better, but maybe we would be splitting ourselves. Compromising the structural integrity of a concept too important to be divided.
Love, what if I was wrong?
If I had written you, I would not split you. I would not slice you up. You are the gorgeous fractal that has guided my life. A million billion meanings, more than all the stars. Love, you are already split and fractured with every utterance of your name, and yet whole, just as you are.
This letter appears in the book, Airmail: Women of Letters.