Rebecca Cox and Kevin Hollingsworth Save Valentine’s Day
If you are like me, when it comes to Valentine’s Day and indeed all things conventionally “romantic” in American culture, you vacillate at random between extremes of swooning indulgence in storybook love and cheeky dismissal of kitsch and commerce. For one thing, there’s already plenty of chocolate in my house; and for another, cut flowers break my heart. Why kill something so pretty as a token of love? I’d much rather have something like a plant, still living, that can continue to grow.
I love poetry, but my favorite Shakespeare Sonnet is #130 — “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…” because it seems to me that it is a realistic appreciation of his beloved’s actual charms, hyperbolic metaphors be damned. My favorite novel is probably Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, for essentially the same reason, with a little touch of magical thinking and geopolitics thrown in.
That’s why it has been my pleasure this Valentine’s season to be reading a pair of books — one essentially prose-poems, and one short narrative prose — that each in their way strike a balance of earnest feeling, self-awareness, pragmatism, and flights of desire, all without recourse to the cliched or the cloying or the cynical. Kevin Hollingsworth’s “Romance with a Touch of Love” (a self-published collection of new writings) and Rebecca Cox’s “A Quiver for Lapsed Romantics” (a special publication selected from her ongoing minutelovestories project) offer some sanity amid the swirl of red-velvet sentimentality, and for that, this anti-Valentine fool for love is grateful indeed.
Cox has been working on minutelovestories for a few years now, to date dropping about 100 of these small but salient shorts, about 200 words or half a page each. The book I have at home is a collaboration with her husband, the artist Ned Evans, pairing his collage works with selected of her stories, but the whole archive and other collections are all up at her site. And I suggest you persuse that archive — especially if you are feeling iffy about V-Day, because each one of these numbers is a unique experience — optimistic, surprising, subversive, hilarious, heartbreaking, infuriating, neurotic, inspired, and yes, romantic. She has a knack for presenting fragments that contain the whole, leaving much unsaid but nothing unexplained. The self-imposed shortness of her format creates a kind of efficiency and clarity in the stories; there is nothing extraneous, but nothing lacking either. They are called love stories, and they are about love, but as everyone living knows, love is never just one thing, it’s a million tiny things — and now, each tiny thing gets its own story. Here’s my favorite (today):
Surprise [minutelovestory #54]
You so provocatively texted me “I have a surprise for you”, that my thoughts ran from the salacious to the sweet. I imagined naked photos of you, a tripod arranged in your bedroom, dim lighting, but that didn’t seem like something you would do. You could be, however, surprising. And so I thought you’d bought us Springsteen tickets, because I could easily imagine us singing Born to Run together, drunk on the tequila you’d snuck into the stadium, a slim metal flask tucked into the waistband of your dark denim AG jeans. Or maybe you’d purchased a silk geisha robe in the turquoise color I’d been wanting, but unable to find, snatched it up downtown for a steal and wrapped it in purple tissue with a tulle bow.
But none of this. No.
When I arrived at your house, on the Shaker-style dining table was a photo of us, arms slung over shoulders, heads tilted toward one another, a moment captured at a friend’s birthday party. I was wearing red and my skin seemed oily, a shining white swath on my forehead. You looked distant, wary, left eye smaller than the right. I’d never noticed this before. What a surprise.
Hollingsworth’s prose reads less like short stories and more like almost spiritual insights. That is, while his subject is love, mulled over, gained, lost, deep, and breezy, his tone puts me in mind of the writings of a Khalil Gibran, dipping in and out of wistfulness and wisdom. His writing blends a casual, intimately simple language with a slightly formal, stylized syntax — a lofty sensibility treating very earthbound emotions. It’s a slim volume, but full of gems. Here’s what I mean:
Hatred Has No Place Here
Love understands him and he understands love. Love is his desire. So rich as well as beautiful he finds love to be; she loves him although he has neither. Generous and golden he finds love’s heart, and she loves him, for his heart is also filled so warmly. His life without love is hatred’s romance. Hatred has no place here as long as love is close by. He revels in her delight, and her delight is love. He feels her warmth and happiness too. He wakes up every morning with no hope, but with promise instead. Love is his promise and hatred has no hate here.