The Writing of the Wild at Heart
August - September 2016
La vita e’ bella is the one most have heard, but scrawled on the side of the church in Piazza del Gesu’ a stone’s throw from where I’m living is the entirely more apt for the present moment: la vita e’ troppo strana — life is too strange. Read: surprising, amusing, surreal.
Today I’m nostalgic for something as simple and perfect as shopping for groceries with the one I’m currently loving from afar. Sat here in this window looking out on the network of balconies that make up my Neapolitan apartment, stringing together my feelings over the music, the cacophony, of these lives lived almost entirely on the streets below me, I find myself fluctuating rapidly between wanting to make this place my home and knowing that it never quite will be. I suppose I’ve always had a problem with truly committing to any one place or direction because these rambling dreams of mine have always revolved around wandering aimlessly, the lone point of gravity in this universe I call my vagabond soul.
Tattooed across my chest, perpetually peeking out from every shirt I’ve ever cared to wear, is Holly Golightly’s infamous line: “You mustn’t give your heart to a wild thing.” For someone all too accustomed to treading the peripheral, preferring to take in everyone and everything from a distance, these words have proven an incredibly effective (if unintentional) conversation starter since ink met skin. Over cigarette smoke outside of any given NYC bar the identity of the wild thing became something of a guessing game, many eyeing me suggestively before concluding, “It’s you, isn’t it?” There was the poet who once posed the question: “What makes a wild thing wild?” Then there were those who asked after some disastrous past lover, those who asserted that the phrase must be in reference to men in general, and those who proclaimed themselves to be the wild thing as if I had set aside a stretch of my body for someone to come along and claim.
In truth the lines that directly follow the one that’s a permanent part of me hold all the meaning. Holly warns that those who give their hearts to wild things end up “looking at the sky,” watching the ones they’ve let themselves love fly away on the strength they’ve gained as a result of being loved. She then adds: “It’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”
Perhaps this vast sense of rootlessness has spoken to me to such a degree because I’ve lived so long in evasion of roots — those of place but especially those of the heart, that rootedness I’ve always perceived to be the shadow side of love. When pressed to elaborate in these guessing game scenarios, sometimes I’d call the tattoo my own personal warning label — don’t try to love me, it cautions, because I will leave. Or, put another way, it could just as easily read: Don’t try to love me because I fear being tamed.
Says the fox in The Little Prince, to tame is “to establish ties,” and one only becomes tamed after a significant period of time, proximity and consistency. Whether an investment of these three things is made in a person or place, the result is still the same — somewhere or someone becomes unique to us and a feeling of need is experienced. All of a sudden, we are bound. And so it is, I long thought, with love. One not only surrenders the wild thing within for the sake of belonging, but also causes another to do the same.
And yet, there is obviously a clear polarization in the sort of relationship that Holly describes — she is the wild thing and he is the one who is rooted. She suggests that the love of such a person with feet firmly planted has enabled her to fly, but then she speaks ruefully of the sky and its emptiness. All the while he remains in the same place in which he always has been, only now his heart is in his hands and his gaze is fixed on the distance.
Whether we’re playing the part of the one among the thunder or the one with eyes cast above, both of these roles are ultimately born of fear and result in nothing but heartsickness. The flight she speaks of, one characterized by loneliness, is not sparked by love but by a compulsion to escape. Conversely, this type of affection, bred of the desire to keep someone on the ground, is not based in love but in a desperate attempt to grab hold. She has not been empowered to soar, but pushed away; he has not been inspired to expand, but pressed to confine. In short, the relationship has not moved either of them to shed their defense mechanisms so as to allow for a truer, freer expression of love. Two people in such a dynamic, effectively trapped, could not possibly grow more deeply into who they are meant to be.
When it comes down to it, shouldn’t we all be aiming to fly and to find that one place or person that gives us roots at the very same time?
Forever unsettled, my whole life it has been my impulse to seek. For so long I avoided intimacy with another, taking an interest only in those who I knew could never become too close, because I believed closeness to be a threat to this intrinsic part of me. In truth, it wasn’t until I let someone in, someone who inspired so much genuine feeling in me that I was prepared to remain on the ground, that I was actually able to fly for nothing else but the sake of soaring. I found the person who refused to let me trade one limiting role for another, and consequently I broke free of the polarity.
Trying to understand who she and I could be in relation to each other outside of this prescribed dynamic has made me realize that you only truly love someone when it becomes an impossibility to follow the script, to reduce yourself or the one you love to a part, because it is not in love’s nature to diminish. We all have the capacity to be the wild thing or the rooted one, but we are meant to embrace the qualities of both. In doing so, we learn that restlessness need not be rootlessness, and searching need not be running away.
And so here I am, newly arrived in Napoli, discovering more pieces of my individual puzzle while she does the same in another part of the world. Both of us in flight, but I am so very aware of the connection that tethers our hearts together. Just as our friend the fox was to be forever reminded of the Little Prince when looking on the wheat fields, so too do I go about my day so far away from her finding her in the most ordinary of things — the color of the clouds and long stretches of escalators and, yes, even while stood in the aisle of the local grocery store.
I would have never believed it could be this way. Life truly is strange, but it’s so damn beautifully so.